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Fleck: NIL Can Be Game-Changer for U


The NCAA approved a policy last summer allowing current and incoming college athletes the opportunity to benefit from their names, images and likenesses. Already there are scattered reports from around the country of both large and minimal amounts of money being provided to student-athletes.

Research by Sports Headliners doesn’t substantiate a lot of activity benefiting University of Minnesota athletes. The school athletic department can help educate but not arrange potential NIL opportunities for its athletes. There doesn’t appear to be much response so far from the outside community including the 16 Fortune 500 companies based in the state of Minnesota.

There certainly is potential to create a reputation that the U is a desirable NIL destination for student-athletes. The Minneapolis-St. Paul area has long been known for its successful businesses of all sizes. Many of those businesses are owned or have staff with passion for Gophers athletics.

NIL is not to be used for “under the table” payments by boosters to reward athletes for performance, or as a recruiting inducement. NIL is also not a pay-for-play tool in the sense that athletes receive a salary from their schools, making them employees. However, word is getting out about schools where athletes are profiting.

For example, at Miami (Florida) a gym owner proposed an NIL deal rewarding everyone on the Hurricanes football team with $500 per month. A University of Michigan retailer reportedly is selling football jerseys with the names of players on the back and more than $10 per shirt goes to the athlete. Paige Bueckers, the former Hopkins superstar who was named 2021 college basketball Player of the Year in her freshman season at Connecticut, is rumored to be lining up more than $500,000 in NIL money. Gable Steveson, the Gopher and gold medal winning Olympic wrestler, is still competing for the U but has (presumably) a lucrative deal with pro wrestling’s WWE.

College athletes are allowed NIL advisors to find deals such as making personal appearances, doing TV commercials or utilizing their social media platforms. Those advisors can’t be coaches from the athletes’ schools, but leaders at the U certainly recognize the potential in this market place given the vitality of the business community.

“…We have a very, very unique location of where we are, and we need to be able to use that, and we need our community to want to use that,” Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck said. “Use our student athletes and really take this program to a different level, and I think we’re very, very capable of doing that.”

P.J. Fleck

Fleck considers NIL to be another major change benefitting athletes, along with things like player safety and the transfer portal. He knows NIL could be a huge catalyst for recruiting, perhaps annually boosting the Gophers into the company of recruiting classes that rank among the top 20 in the nation—a change resulting in rosters with plenty of four-star players, and perhaps a few five-stars.

Fleck is clearly excited about NIL and how it can benefit Gopher football. “I think there is great potential here for what we can become. …We just have to be incredibly creative. We have to be able to use it like everyone else. To be able to use it (as) part of recruiting student athletes to come here.

“Again, not setting those things up, but when you look at where you are and where you’re located, what resources we have around here, this can be game-changing for the University of Minnesota. It can be game-changing for where we are going in the future.”

Notes: Vikes Miss on Second Half Points

The Minnesota Vikings’ offense has no second half touchdowns in the last three games (two losses). After Sunday’s home loss to the Seattle Seahawks, head coach Mike Zimmer surprisingly said on KFAN radio he hadn’t thought about the scoring drought in the last two periods. “I’ll have to look at what we’re doing offensively at halftime,” he said.

The offense produced a crisp opening game touchdown drive in the 14-7 loss to the Cleveland Browns Sunday. Former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber, also talking on the KFAN post game show, said the early game plans of rookie offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak impress but production stalls out.

“But as the game goes on, and you have to start calling plays based on game situations, and it seems like we’re just not as creative,” Leber said. “We’re not ahead of it where we should be, where we are in the early parts of the game. …”

Kirk Cousins

Leber believes blitzes and line twists by the Browns frustrated Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and his linemen. “We’ve seen Kirk where he gets in these games and he feels the pressure before it’s really there, and I think that really had an effect on him late in the game,” Leber said.

The one-win Vikings have lost three games by a total of 11 points. That’s part of why Zimmer keeps insisting he has a “good team” despite the record, while anticipating results will turn around as the season progresses.

Viking wide receiver Justin Jefferson had six receptions for 84 yards and the team’s lone touchdown Sunday.  He has 114 receptions for 1,738 yards and 10 touchdowns in 20 career games. He and Odell Beckham Jr. and A.J. Green are the only NFL players in league history with at least 100 receptions, 1,500 receiving yards and 10 touchdown catches in their first 20 games.

Vikings veteran linebacker Anthony Barr (knee injury) has yet to play in the first four games but Zimmer is optimistic about a return to the field Sunday against the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium. “I think he’ll play this week,” Zimmer said at his news conference yesterday.

The experience of the 29-year-old allows the Vikings to do things a younger player can’t, the coach said.

Zimmer also said the coaches are talking about how to keep 33-year-old defensive end Everson Griffen fresh for the balance of the season. He’s been effective in rushing the opposing quarterback, with two sacks in three games this season.

Single game tickets remain for the Minnesota Wild home opener against the Winnipeg Jets October 19. A promotional email Monday used this subject line: “Don’t Miss (Kirill) Kaprizov Opening Night.”

Starters for the Minnesota Timberwolves in their opening preseason game last night: center Karl-Anthony Towns, forward Jaden McDaniels, guards Josh Okogie, Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell. Impressions: a skilled group capable of explosive offense and more than average defense, but not an adequate rebounding unit. Note to head coach Chris Finch: start Jarred Vanderbilt in place of McDaniels to improve the offensive and defensive rebounding.

Towns needs to be an alpha defender and rebounder all season. He also must cruise through a season without being sidelined with injuries (briefly missed time during the game last night).

The 20-year-old Edwards looks taller and stronger than during his rookie season last winter. Everyone knows about his offense but he’s going to be elite defensively. He had two blocks and two steals in his team’s 117-114 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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