Is there such a thing as too many volleyball camps?
In Lincoln, we’re about to find out, and early indications are that the answer is no.
College sports is about 13 months into the NIL era, where athletes can be paid for endorsements, appearances, sports camps, private lessons and autographs. They can also have apparel with their name and number on it sold, and that’s been a significant one for Husker volleyball players. (A “Lincoln digs Lexi” design for Husker libero Lexi Rodriguez is a popular one.)
Each of the players on the Nebraska volleyball team has made money. While at many schools, life probably hasn’t changed much for volleyball players, Nebraska’s largest NIL collective — a group that pools money from fans and businesses that is distributed to players through NIL activities — has included Husker volleyball players in a significant way.
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Players have participated in several volleyball camps. Some are headlined by just a few players — Nicklin Hames and Lauren Stivrins had one last summer when about 360 players attended at $40 apiece. One of those camps quickly sold out and another session was added. Youth volleyball players have come from Colorado and Kansas to attend.
Bekka Allick and Rodriguez host a camp Thursday in Lincoln.
Other camps are organized by one of Nebraska’s collectives, Athlete Branding and Marketing (ABM), and count as an activity that players can be paid for and usually include most of the team. That included one last month open to Special Olympics athletes sponsored by Assurity. Another camp was free to participants (with an optional NIL donation) and sponsored by Scooter’s Coffee.
Players also do activities on their own, like an autograph signing at a local card shop, social media ads and appearances at local events booked through Opendorse.
But coaches aren’t allowed to be extremely involved with NIL deals.
“You have to stay out of it. I have nothing to do with it,” Nebraska coach John Cook said recently at the end of a stretch of working 21 straight days between recruiting and volleyball camps.
Cook had concerns about NIL before it began, and that hasn’t changed. But from the start, the coaches told recruits that the robust fan interest in Nebraska volleyball would benefit the players.
“All we can do is say here is some of the things that our players have done,” Cook said. “I don’t know exactly how much money they make off those. It’s their deal. It’s not my deal. But Nicklin (Hames) just spent four days in LA with Adidas, so are we going to promote that? Heck yeah. There were just two other college volleyball players. There is an example.
“Lexi Sun was a great example of all of that. So we can kind of just outline the opportunities they have with NIL and it’s up to them how they want to do it, and help their brand and all of those things. We have a lot of things here in place if they want to take advantage of it they can really develop those opportunities.”
When athletes enter the NCAA transfer portal with intentions to find a new school, NIL could be one part of the decision on finding their next school.
But Cook still thinks that an established multiyear starter for the Huskers, such as Madi Kubik and Kenzie Knuckles, would have just as many or more opportunities to profit as a high-profile transfer.
“I don’t think it matters if you’re a transfer, or if you’re already here,” Cook said. “The thing is some of the companies that want to work with NIL, they are already familiar with our current players. So I think they have an advantage that they’ve been here and the fans know them. So if you’re hiring somebody for your company you’re going to want to hire somebody that people know, I think.”
In college football, NIL is “a different animal,” Cook said.
Still, he said there have been moments during the past year when he thought about how NIL is going to be another challenge for the coaches to navigate.
“Many, many times,” Cook said.
“Players getting edgy about somebody got to do this, and they didn’t. Or somebody got this amount, and I only got this amount. So I’m just hearing about those things. And I’m thinking, ‘OK, how are we ever going to have a great team if they’re feeling this way?’ So we’re doing a lot of educating and a lot of talking and trying to work through it, and this is where your leadership has got to step up.”
The coaches tell the players to try and keep conversations about NIL out of the practice facility, but Cook has tried to be proactive.
“And basically what I tell them is the more you’re given, the more that’s going to be required,” Cook said. “The more things you’re given here at Nebraska volleyball, the more expectations are going to be placed on you, so be sure you’re ready for that.”
Reach the writer at 402-473-7435 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @LJSSportsWagner.