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Monday, September 20, 2021
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Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz (5) looks for a receiver during an NCAA college football game against the Illinois Fighting Illini Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in Madison, Wis. The Badgers won 45-7. (Photo by David Stluka/Wisconsin Athletic Communications)

UW student-athletes are cashing in on new NCAA rule change

UW-Madison student-athletes are now able to see their blood, sweat and tears on the field translate into cold, hard cash in their pockets.

This month, the NCAA announced that college athletes are eligible to make money off their name, image and likeness (NIL). This historic revision opens many new licensing possibilities for student-athletes to get paid, including custom merchandise, autograph signings and endorsement deals.

One of the first to take advantage of this breakthrough rule change was Wisconsin Badgers’ Quarterback Graham Mertz. Mertz — a redshirt sophomore who started in seven games for the Badgers last season — revealed his merchandise store and trademark logo on July 1st with the caption, “Thank you for the support. It’s only the beginning!”

Several of Mertz’s teammates quickly followed suit, as the entire Badgers offensive line partnered with Mission BBQ — the same food chain that sponsors Wisconsin legend Joe Thomas. In addition, Safety Collin Wilder unveiled his own custom T-shirt and a partnership with GoPuff.

Outside linebacker Spencer Lytle and Cornerback Faion Hicks also agreed to collaborate with the digital delivery service.

Defensive lineman Curtis Neal — a 2022 recruit who committed to UW-Madison in late June — immediately jumped on the money-making opportunity, announcing his new clothing line with the Madison company Nation Sports. 

Defensive End Matt Henningsen also reaped the benefits of the rule change, joining Degree Deodorant as part of their #BreakingLimits team. Henningsen was the perfect choice for Degree’s odds-defying roster, joining the Badgers as a walk-on and eventually becoming an essential piece of their defense.

Along with the student-athletes on the football team, several other Badgers seized the opportunity to promote themselves. Chayla Edwards — a defender on the women’s hockey team — will be accompanying Henningsen on the Degree Deodorant platform. Edwards played in every game this season for the National Championship team and prides herself on being a black hockey player.

“As a black woman in a predominantly white sport, I’m constantly breaking the limits set for me,” Edwards said in a Twitter post. “As a #DegreePartner, I look forward to sharing my full story with you!”

Multiple Badger athletes additionally cashed in on the chance to become a “Barstool Athlete,” associating themselves with the digital media company Barstool Sports. This includes Forward Owen Lindmark and Defender Shay Donovan of the men’s hockey team, Tight End Jack Eschenbach, Outside linebacker Marty Strey and Safety John Torchio of the football team, Danielle Bellino of the women’s cross country team, Eden Rane of the women’s lightweight rowing team and UW athlete of the year Daryl Watts from the women’s hockey team.

The perks associated with being a Barstool Athlete are still unclear, as Barstool Sports President Dave Portnoy admitted the partnership was an impulsive creation.

“Barstool Athletics Inc is the most barstool thing ever,” Portnoy said. “No thought put into it. No clue what we were doing and two hours later the most powerful student athlete organization in the country.”

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UW-Madison has predominantly stayed out of athletes’ licensing agreements but released a temporary policy for their students. According to the university guidelines, student-athletes can profit commercially from their NIL, so long as they don’t do so during “Official Team Activities.” 

Furthermore, endorsements that hurt UW-Madison’s reputation, contain obscene information, discriminate against certain individuals, or promote tobacco products, gambling or NCAA banned substances are prohibited.

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