BILLINGS — Last summer, the NCAA made a new ruling allowing collegiate athletes to be paid using their name, image and likeness. Now, athletes aren’t just balancing sports and school, but also any potential business deals.
It’s a phenomenon playing out across the nation, as college athletes are earning money in endorsement deals outside of their sport.
With the beginning of the new football season, NIL deals have also made their way to Montana.
Former Billings Senior star and current Montana Griz football player Junior Bergen is one of the many student athletes around the state reaping the rewards of this new opportunity.
“I've got a clothing one with UpTop, a car dealership. I had a watch company. Just a bunch of little stuff, local stuff,” said Bergen.
His biggest deal is with a car dealership in Missoula. Bergen receives a new car that he will return at the end of each year for as long as he helps promote their business.
“I just have to do a couple events, and some signings, and some pictures and stuff with the car. Just kind of promote their business and help them out, and they help me out as well,” said Bergen.
In Billings, the new opportunity hasn’t found its way into Montana State Billings yet. Athletic director Michael Bazemore said it will take longer to affect smaller schools.
“It hasn’t really affected us too much. I think when you have smaller schools it's going to be kind of difficult,” Bazemore said.
While MSU Billings will certainly not receive the same level of endorsements seen at larger schools. Still, student-athletes walking around campus in Billings can search out deals in the future.
For administrators like Bazemore, it’s a perk that could become a serious problem if students are not cautious.
“It’s exciting, but if I was a young man or a young woman, I would definitely tell them to do their research," Bazemore said.
According to the NIL platform INFLCR, most athletes will not receive huge amounts of money in these deals with the average transaction involving a college football player being just over $3,000.
In Bozeman, at Montana State University, $80,000 were raised by donors and will be evenly split between 80 football players this upcoming season.
But it’s still a new process, and more money and larger impacts are expected to come in future seasons. For some student athletes, it can be life changing.
“We come from a lot of different places and different backgrounds. They’re just trying to help their families out or help themselves out. So I think it can change a lot of people’s lives,” Bergen said.