LEWISTON — As she has in recent years, Mackenzie Holmes spent some of her summer working at basketball camps and clinics in Maine before heading back to Indiana University.

But there was a big difference this year: Holmes, a former Gorham High basketball star, could get paid.

“It’s nice,” said Holmes, a junior forward who led Indiana in scoring and rebounding last season. “I’m only here for a short period of time. I can make a little profit.”

Holmes and other college athletes now are able to take advantage of one of the most notable changes in amateur athletics in decades. On July 1, the NCAA’s name, image and likeness (NIL) policy went into effect, allowing athletes to cash in on their celebrity.

The move by the NCAA came after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on June 21 that raised questions about whether the NCAA was violating antitrust laws by not allowing athletes to be compensated for their NIL. In addition, 13 states passed legislation that began on July 1 either allowing college athletes to earn money from their NIL or prohibiting the NCAA  from punishing those who did. Another 11 states will have similar laws in effect by 2023. (Maine does not have any NIL legislation.)

It’s been a slow start to the NIL era – “There hasn’t been the gold rush that was anticipated at the national level,” said  University of Maine Athletic Director Ken Ralph – so no one is quite sure what to make of it yet.

“The market is so new, it’s hard to tell how expansive it’s going to become,” said Michael McCann, the founding director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire and one of the nation’s leading sports law experts. “It’s just too early. It will be interesting to see how big it gets, how lucrative it gets. There are a lot of questions that remain to be answered.”

The majority of college athletes, said McCann and others, won’t benefit much financially from their NIL deals. What they will receive, instead, are products and services from local or regional businesses.

“By and large,” said McCann, “the athletes at the larger schools with national top sports programs are probably in the best position to benefit from name, image and likeness.”

Case in point: Alabama sophomore quarterback Bryce Young has signed deals worth more than $800,000, according to ESPN.

Mike Cound, a sports agent out of Chattanooga, Tennessee, who represents mostly women’s professional basketball players, said most players would likely receive “free food, free services.”

“If we don’t see huge deals for football players, then I’d say with women’s basketball, it’s more going to be product,” said Cound. “It’s more going to be random product. It’s Slotski’s Sandwiches saying, ‘We’ll let you eat there any time you want if you put up two (Instagram) posts a week.'”

Indiana University basketball star Mackenzie Holmes supervises a drill during a basketball clinic at the Maine Basketball Club in Lewiston on Aug. 12. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Holmes found a way to make a little bit of money off her name, which is well known in Maine basketball circles. It wasn’t much, just a $200 appearance fee and a 50-50 split with the local club over the remaining revenues, but it was gratifying to be compensated for her time and effort.

“It’s just something to put in my savings,” she said. “You get stipends as athletes, but sometimes things pop up, just little expenses. It’s good to have that extra money when I go back to school.

“I don’t have time to work during the school year, I don’t have time to make extra money. We work a job, pretty much. Being an athlete is a job.”

SCHOOLS WORKING ON THEIR OWN POLICIES 

While the NCAA’s name, image and likeness policy is new, McCann said the issue isn’t.

“The clock ran out on the NCAA,” said McCann. “They fought it for so long. This isn’t a new topic. The Ed O’Bannon case was in 2009.”

O’Bannon was a former UCLA basketball player who sued the NCAA on behalf of the school’s football and men’s basketball players, challenging its right to use the images of the players to make a commercial profit. A California District Court judge ruled in favor of O’Bannon, but the NCAA appealed and ultimately prevailed. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from O’Bannon’s lawyers. But the case set in motion other lawsuits, which eventually led to the adoption of the new NIL policy.

Under the NCAA’s policy, students can use “a professional service provider” – in other words, a lawyer or agent – to provide advice or guidance for NIL activities. Students also must follow any state laws regarding the NIL and report their NIL activities to their schools. It also restricts international students from being able to capitalize on their NIL.

The policy also left it up to conferences and colleges to develop their own NIL policies and many have, including the University of Maine. While each one differs slightly, students are not allowed to use the logos, symbols or trademarks of any universities in promoting their NIL activities, though in some cases, they can autograph licensed memorabilia.

Samantha Hegmann, the associate athletic director for compliance at UMaine, helped put the school’s policy together, along with Ralph and other senior officials, and oversees its activities.

She said the school used the NCAA’s framework for its policy, and the fact that Maine doesn’t have a NIL law gave “us a little more flexibility” than states that have one. School officials have been meeting with athletes to go over the policy.

Hegmann said several athletes, including three football players and a field hockey player, have filed paperwork with the university regarding NIL deals with local businesses. A men’s ice hockey player has filed a NIL deal with a company in his hometown as well. Those deals, which include corporate sponsors for the athletic department, are being finalized.

“And I’m sure as we navigate this in the coming weeks, there will be more,” said Hegmann.

She added: “I think we’re lucky in that our local community loves to support athletics. There are local businesses that will be willing to, and want to do more trade-based stuff with our athletes. What I foresee is more products and services than cash payouts.”

Indiana’s Mackenzie Holmes blocks a shot by Maryland’s Ashley Owusu during a game in early January. Holmes led the Hoosiers in scoring and rebounding last season, and her team advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. Julio Cortez/Associated Press

Holmes said she is fortunate to attend Indiana University, which held training sessions for its students before the NCAA policy passed and has its own extensive NIL policy. Holmes said: “People came in and told us what the NIL is, to make sure we align ourselves with brands that reflect your personality and what you’re all about … teaching us how to market ourselves. They did a good job making things as clear as possible.”

Jeremy Gray, a senior associate athletic director at Indiana and chair of its NIL task force, said the school saw the passage of the NIL policy “as an inevitability” and wanted to have its student-athletes prepared. So they showed the athletes the best way to brand themselves and how to use best practices on social media – “We told them to clean up their social media accounts for things that might make them less desirable to sponsors” – while making sure the athletes understood what they were signing.

“There are taxes to pay,” said Gray. “They need to understand the language of the contract.”

Gray said athletes from most of the 20 sports Indiana offers have signed NIL deals. “Most have been for apparel or food for services provided,” he said. “A couple of T-shirts to a couple thousand dollars. It has run the gamut.”

When it came time for his daughter to try to capitalize on her celebrity, Lenny Holmes – the director of the Maine Hoops basketball club – wasn’t sure what they could do, so he reached out to an Indiana University official.

“They were blunt with us; they said they were working through it, too,” he said. “But they were helpful.”

Lenny Holmes also contacted Cound, the sports agent who represented legendary Maine basketball player Cindy Blodgett when she played in the WNBA. Under the policy, students can contact lawyers or agents for advice without having their eligibility threatened. Cound simply told them what they should consider when setting up a contract regarding compensation for Holmes.

One huge factor in many NIL sponsorship deals is social media. The more popular an athlete is on social media, the more followers on Instagram and Twitter and TikTok, the more likely he or she is going to strike a deal.

“It’s not necessarily about being a good basketball player,” said Cound, the president of Cound Group Global. “I think there are two factors here. One is someone who has an interesting look. The other is someone who has a large social (media) following or is popular locally.”

“There are people,” said Indiana’s Gray, “who are exceptionally good on social media that are going to end up making more money than the best player you see on the field each game.”

Holmes has a following of 4,374 on Instagram, 1,338 on Twitter. That’s not huge compared to others, but then that’s not Holmes’ No. 1 attraction, according to Cound.

“She’s got perspective,” he said. “She’s not crazy pushing everything saying, ‘We’ve got to make money.’ She’s a sweet, humble kid, and to me that sells.”

CLINICS HAVE LONG-RANGE BENEFIT

Lenny Holmes said once the NCAA announced its NIL policy, he reached out to Maine’s basketball clubs to see if they would be interested in using his daughter’s name to run clinics. He left it up to the clubs to advertise the clinics and attract the players. The charge per player would be $35. Mackenzie would receive a $200 appearance fee and then evenly split whatever was left over with the basketball club. About 20 players attended the first of two clinics at the Maine Basketball Club in Lewiston.

The money wasn’t big for her, but that wasn’t the point of doing the clinics.

“Coaching is something I can definitely see myself doing in the future,” she said.

Mackenzie Holmes signs autographs after her clinic at the Maine Basketball Club in Lewiston on Aug. 12. Mike Lowe photo

And she loves sharing her story, from her very first practice as an eighth-grader with the Maine Firecrackers club – “I thought I was in shape but I almost died,” she said. “I didn’t pass out, but I know I puked” – to her first practice at Indiana as a freshman. “Again, I thought I was in shape, but I wasn’t. I thought I was working hard in high school, but I wasn’t.” At the end of the clinic, she told the girls she wants them to keep in touch with her.

Kristina Blais, the director of the Maine Basketball Club, said it was as important for her players to hear that message. “The biggest thing that these young women need to learn is how to use their voices, on and off the court,” she said.

At the end of each clinic, Holmes sat at a table and signed autographed photos – “The most clear definition of her name, her image and her likeness,” said Gray, of the photos – for the players.

Caitlyn McCoy, a 13-year-old freshman at Leavitt High in Turner, has dreams of playing college basketball. “I got a lot out of this,” she said. “Getting the insight of a college player really helps you think about how you want to work yourself to get to the point where she’s at. And it helps you focus on what your goals should be to get there.”

McCann, the UNH professor, said the clinic was a good way for Holmes to enter the NIL world.

“It relates to not only her fame, but her talent and her knowledge,” he said. “She knows a lot about basketball and she’s able to educate others about it. It’s very consistent with the college model that she is, in effect, teaching. Maybe there will be NIL deals less germane to education, but in that context, (the clinic) is right on the money. She’s teaching.”

Ralph, the UMaine athletic director, said the NIL effect “will be minimal at our level,” meaning a mid-major school. But clinics and camps do present good opportunities.

“I see potential opportunities for our student-athletes to lend their names to camps and clinics,” said Ralph. “I could see the Joe Fagnano Passing Camp (referring to the UMaine quarterback).”

Ralph and McCann echoed what Indiana’s Gray said, that the students need to be aware of all the financial and legal ramifications of the contracts they sign.  That’s why McCann said students should have a lawyer look at any contracts.

“Maybe it’s not relevant for a small deal, but maybe it is,” he said. “There are all sorts of clauses in contracts that could be problematic later on if not addressed early.”

McCann added there is still much to learn when it comes to NIL.

“This is a whole new world,” he said. “It’s interesting that the NCAA was concerned at first that this would hurt fan interest. I guess we don’t know about that yet, but the reaction I’ve seen is all pretty positive.”


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