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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Liz Gregorski (left) and Dana Rettke (right) work with UNCUT Madison. Gregorski is a content strategist and producer, while Rettke heads the site's brand management.

Launch of UNCUT Madison Gives Student Athletes An Opportunity for Unfiltered, Authentic Storytelling

Eighty-six percent of all division one public schools require journalists to reach out to their athletic departments in order to interview an athlete. Yes, even Sports Illustrated has to go through Wisconsin Athletics in order to talk to Graham Mertz. 

Furthermore, many sports writers — admittedly even myself — unintentionally exploit student athletes for their gameday stats, and ignore their daily struggles, triumphs and everyday experiences as students. 

This all began to change last year when students at the University of North Carolina launched UNCUT, a student-run media platform that allows student athletes the opportunity to tell their stories via peer-to-peer communication. Now, UNCUT is coming to Madison. 

Content that appears on UNCUT’s website and social media accounts is posted by student athletes and is intended for a target audience consisting of their classmates, fans, and teammates. This peer-to-peer style of communication effectively cuts out the middleman (the athletic department), with the intention that this will make content more authentic. 

Since UNCUT’s successful launch in Chapel Hill, Duke, Virginia Tech and Appalachian State have started their own UNCUT platforms. On March 3rd, Wisconsin’s UNCUT site will be the first in the Big Ten – but how did UNCUT Madison come to be? 

The answer dates back to Nov. 3rd, 2020: Election Day. Coincidentally, Olivia Hancock, a junior studying marketing at UW, and Dana Rettke, senior middle blocker for Wisconsin’s No. 1 ranked volleyball team, were scheduled to volunteer at the same polling site that day.

Hancock, the head of operations for UNCUT Madison, had read about UNC’s platform and was inspired to launch an extension at UW to empower student athletes. The only problem was, she didn’t know any athletes — an essential piece to the collaborative puzzle. 

“As a lifelong Badger fan, I have always wanted to know more about student-athletes at UW-Madison, but every article I read or TV interview I watched only focused on how many points they scored or how many games they won,” Hancock told us. “Now more than ever, it’s so important that we amplify the voices of athletes everywhere. As a fan and aspiring sports-business professional, I felt like this was a way to make a real impact on campus.”

Election Day provided Hancock with the opportunity she was looking for to bond with a student athlete, and she got to work strategically positioning herself to work in the same area as Rettke at the polling site. As their conversation flowed throughout the day, Hancock eventually shared her dream of launching UNCUT Madison, and Rettke responded enthusiastically to the idea. 

Following Hancock and Rettke’s fortuitous encounter they were able to spark interest among other student athletes to join their leadership team, including Rettke’s teammate Liz Gregorski. Rettke now heads up the site’s brand management while Gregorski, a redshirt freshman outside hitter, works as a content strategist and producer for the platform.

“[UNCUT] combines two things that I am super passionate about, digital media and human connection,” Gregorski said. “Being a part of the Uncut team was a blessing that fell in my lap, thanks to Dana and Olivia, and I am so excited to create entertaining content where fellow student athletes share the stories they want to tell.”

In preparation for their launch, Hancock told us she had several meetings with UNCUT leadership teams at other Universities. Madison’s platform will closely resemble UNC’s prototype, with a few tweaks that make it unique. 

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One thing that makes Madison’s UNCUT platform unique from others is the addition of an advisory board made up of Badger alumni in the professional sports business world. Advisors who will help grow the platform include Mitchell Pinta, Director of business development for the NFL, and Casey Schwab, the CEO and co-founder of Altius Sports Partners. 

With the goals of letting athletes share what’s important to them, tell their stories and be themselves, UNCUT gives student athletes the opportunity to build their own brand. This could become increasingly beneficial in light of changes to the NCAA’s Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) policy.

Changes to NIL legislation have the potential to allow college athletes to financially profit from the use of their names, images and likenesses as early as sometime this year. Schools that have an UNCUT website could have been advantageous for student athletes who leverage the platform to start shaping their brand early. 

As far as specific content, UNCUT Madison will feature vivid first-person storytelling, video features highlighting athletes lesser-known skills, roundtable conversations over a shared topic or experience and accounts from Badger alumni recounting what being a Badger has meant to them over their career.

Anticipated content set to be published soon after the initial launch includes “sit-down” conversations over video chat with top Badger playmakers; a football player’s piece on injuries, COVID-19 and adversity; and an account of an athlete struggling with mental health. 

While some content is sure to be heart-wrenching and cover serious or controversial topics, Hancock told Sports Business Journal that other posts will be more light hearted. “We’ll have some fun stuff in there too,” said Hancock. “We’ll ask the athletes about their favorite late-night food and their relationship status.”

Content will primarily be posted on their Instagram @uncut_madison and website, so be sure to check those out starting March 3rd — if you’re dying to know which fast food restaurant you’re favorite Badger Hockey player is most likely to be ordering late night delivery from. 

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