TAMPA — If you’re looking for a break from name, image and likeness (NIL) in college sports, enjoy the Frozen Four at Amalie Arena.
“You’re hearing million-dollar deals for football and basketball,” Minnesota coach Bob Motzko said. “Our players get burritos.”
Though there are some exceptions — Gophers forward Logan Cooley did, in fact, have a deal with Chipotle, while Michigan’s Luke Hughes partnered with American Eagle — NIL hasn’t rocked hockey the way it has football or basketball. That’s not a surprise. Hockey is more of a regional niche than a national sport and didn’t embrace the transfer portal quickly, either.
To understand why, consider the Wolverines’ Adam Fantilli. He’s a finalist for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award as the nation’s top player and one of the top two prospects in June’s NHL draft. But his 25,000 Instagram followers are a fraction of the audience commanded by the Cavinder twins of Miami women’s basketball (more than 600,000 each).
A Michigan NIL club has 61 members who have pledged $913 per month. Split among the 21 participating players, that’s $522 annually apiece. That’s a far cry from the $13 million deal that collapsed between the Gators and quarterback recruit Jaden Rashada.
Instead of giant collective paydays, hockey deals have been more about camps, gear and, yes, free food.
“It’s definitely cool to have that opportunity,” said Gophers forward Connor Kurth, a 2022 Lightning draft pick who has promoted Royalty clothing and Liv Tru Nutrition. “It just adds on to the college experience.”
But just because the NIL era hasn’t transformed hockey yet doesn’t mean it won’t. Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said it’s starting to become a factor at some Big Ten schools, and teams that ignore it will get left behind.
“We’ll see where it goes the next 5-10 years and where the NCAA lets it go, or tries to let it go, or not let it go,” Pecknold said. “But it’s something that if you want to repeatedly go to Frozen Fours in the next 10 years that you need to get on board with it. Because it’s coming.”
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