New rules change earning capacity for student-athletes

By Brian Koonz, MS '20, Photo by Crandall Yopp Jr. '21 August 24, 2022

Greg Glynn, founder of Pliable, sits with Rand Pecknold at a table with recording equipment

As a student broadcaster at Quinnipiac, Greg Glynn ’04 spent hours preparing for men’s ice hockey games. He filled up yellow legal pads interviewing head coach Rand Pecknold. He highlighted stats and trends. He memorized players and their backstories, frozen paths that often curled through Canada, the Midwest and New England. 

But life on the road, especially for an unpaid kid behind the microphone, wasn’t always picture perfect. In fact, for one particular away game in January 2002, it meant riding a Greyhound bus from Massachusetts to Michigan for a date with Michigan State. 

“You can imagine what that bus ride was like. Sure enough, on the way there we get stuck in a snowstorm in Buffalo, and the bus breaks down,” Glynn said. “So they take us to the Buffalo bus terminal. I don’t have money for a hotel or anything, so I look around for a place to sleep, and I see one of those little photo booths where you take a picture with your friend. So that’s where I spent the night. I closed the curtain and went to sleep.” 

These days, after building a successful career in Maine as the vice president for communications for the Portland Pirates minor league ice hockey franchise, and later, as an account supervisor for a local marketing and public relations firm, Glynn has become the founder and CEO of Pliable, a sports marketing, PR and broadcasting company based in Augusta. 

Pliable specializes in athlete branding for high school, college and professional athletes. The firm grew out of last summer’s unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision that enabled student-athletes to earn income from their name, image and likeness (NIL) and other economic opportunities. 

At Quinnipiac, women’s ice hockey goaltender Catie Boudiette ’24 and women’s golfer Kaylee Sakoda ’22, MBA ’23, have already signed with Pliable. Glynn has helped them become brand ambassadors for SEAAV, the sustainable apparel company founded by QU alumna Mckenna Haz ’21, MBA ’22. Boudiette and Sakoda earn revenue from their clothing sales.  

Boudiette is also now a model, a result of building her network and building her athlete brand with Pliable. Glynn said he expects more QU student-athletes to work with Pliable in the coming months. 

Glynn’s other clients include Alyssa Bourque, a javelin thrower at the University of Vermont; her sister, Kaylyn Bourque, a high school ice hockey star who led Maine in scoring last season with 33 goals; University of Georgia golfer Caleb Manuel, who fired a 4-over-par 74 in June at the U.S. Open in Brookline, Massachusetts; and Colin Cook, a former QU men’s ice hockey goaltender who recently won the White Mountains Triathlon in New Hampshire. 

“I see NIL being the most effective tool from a marketing standpoint where the athlete now has a chance to market themselves during and after their career,” said Glynn, who outlined the benefits of NIL during an athletics presentation at QU in April and plans to address the field hockey team during preseason camp. “Only 2 percent of college athletes will play professional sports, so you need a backup plan for your career after sports. I enjoy helping high school, college and pro athletes build their brand for wherever their career takes them. They become more pliable. 

“What better way to build your brand than to show what it means to be a successful athlete: You’re dedicated. You’re hardworking. You’ve got great leadership skills. You’re disciplined. Everyone wants to hire that person,” Glynn said. “The athlete brand speaks for itself. It carries a lot of weight. Now, how do you leverage that and make it work for you?” 

Glynn, who created Pliable’s Athlete Branding Playbook, is eager to build name recognition and branding opportunities for his clients, particularly for causes they care about. Recently, the Bourque sisters made a public service announcement for the Humane Society in Waterville, Maine, as part of a $5,000 in-kind donation. The deal is the first of its kind in the country, according to Glynn. 

After Manuel’s impressive debut at the U.S. Open, Glynn arranged for him to throw out the first pitch at a Portland Sea Dogs minor league baseball game. Glynn booked a similar deal for the Bourque sisters in July to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the landmark federal legislation that prohibits discrimination based on sex at any school or college that receives federal funding. 

Glynn grew up in Sudbury, Massachusetts, about a half-hour west of Boston. He played three sports in high school — baseball, hockey and golf — before a back injury shut down his hockey career. Undaunted, Glynn discovered another outlet for his love of sports: the broadcast booth. 

“My local cable access channel used to broadcast the games, and I was the play-by-play and color guy with one of my friends from high school,” Glynn said. “We had a lot of fun in those days, but I knew I had so much to learn.” 

When it came time to choose a college, Glynn’s mother suggested several schools, including Quinnipiac. Glynn had never heard of QU, but his mother worked in higher education, so he trusted her judgment. 

“So I told her I’ll go look at it — and you know what happens when you go look at it, right?” Glynn said, smiling the whole time. “You fall in love with it. You fall in love with Quinnipiac.” 

But Quinnipiac was more than just a beautiful campus with a mountain of potential. It quickly became the catalyst for Glynn’s career in sports journalism. He worked at Q30 Television. He covered ice hockey for The Quinnipiac Chronicle and U.S. College Hockey Magazine.  

Best of all, Glynn polished his radio skills at WQAQ, the student radio station, and WQUN, the flagship station for QU ice hockey and basketball at the time.  

“When I went to Quinnipiac, I found my passion. I found what I wanted to do with my life,” Glynn said. “I knew I wanted to be a broadcaster, but I wasn’t sure how to get there. How do I get on the air? Who do I talk to? Hockey season was right around the corner.” 

Bill Schweitzer, the longtime “Voice of the Bobcats” and a member of the Quinnipiac Athletics Hall of Fame, and Duncan Fletcher, a former volunteer assistant coach for the men’s ice hockey team, were broadcasting the ice hockey games back then. Schweitzer did the play-by-play, and Fletcher did the color commentary. Both noticed Glynn’s budding skills and enthusiasm right away. 

At the suggestion of Fletcher, Schweitzer invited Glynn to come on the air during intermission one game. “I was so excited. I knew what this could mean to help me get some more experience on the air,” Glynn said. “So I spewed out all my knowledge and analysis, and I guess I made a good impression. I didn’t know it at the time, but Duncan really didn’t have the time to do color anymore, so Bill gave me a shot.” 

Not long after, as Schweitzer was getting asked to call more and more men’s basketball games, he asked Glynn if he’d like to do some play-by-play for men’s ice hockey.  

“I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I told him, ‘Yes, absolutely!’ I was so excited,” Glynn said. “But again, here was another door that opened for me at Quinnipiac. I’ll always be grateful for all the opportunities I had there.” 

Over the last six months, Glynn has worked with Director of Athletics Greg Amodio to address the benefits and the unintended consequences of NIL. Think taxable income for student-athletes. 

Glynn and Amodio have discussed the best ways to navigate the ever-changing NIL landscape to ensure that schools, athletic departments, coaches and student-athletes are all on the same page. Glynn’s presentation on campus last spring was part of that learning process. 

Amodio said Quinnipiac is also working with an NIL technology company called Opendorse to help QU student-athletes and coaches better understand NIL opportunities. The Nebraska-based company represents more than 1,000 college teams, athletic departments and conferences. 

“One of the biggest pieces for us as we've moved through this is to offer as many educational components as possible to help our coaches and student-athletes understand it,” Amodio said. “This way, they can determine what’s out there and what’s available and figure out what’s best for our student-athletes.” 

With the Opendorse platform, many of QU’s past and present student-athletes offer a menu of services with a price list that includes personalized videos, autographs and social media posts.  

For example, U.S. Olympian and former women’s rugby player Ilona Maher will record a personal video for $25-plus. She will also post on your social media account for $64-plus. Likewise, Stanley Cup champion and former men’s ice hockey player Devon Toews will autograph something for you for $25-plus. He will also post a message on your social media account for $63-plus.  

Among current student-athletes, women’s golfer Kaylee Sakoda, who is also working with Pliable, charges $25-plus for an appearance fee and $25-plus to autograph something for you. Men’s basketball player Matt Balanc will record a video for $44-plus and appear at your local event for $112-plus.  

With different rules in different states, the NIL calculus is constantly changing — by the going rate, by the day, by the winds of the marketplace. 

“It was essentially designed to be a free-market system where a student-athlete could tie into their social media backgrounds and platforms and profiles,” Amodio said. “We're still trying to see where the rules are ultimately going to fall before we go all-in ourselves. But there are big schools like Ohio State who have already hired a full-time person to serve as director of NIL.” 

Exposure is everything in this explosive new era of NIL, Amodio said.  

Consider: Last fall, UConn women’s basketball player Paige Bueckers signed a multi-year NIL deal with Gatorade. Terms of the deal have not been disclosed, although Bueckers’ social media audience is there for everyone to see — 1 million followers on Instagram, another 372,000 on TikTok and 75,000 more on Twitter. 

“She’s one of the best women’s basketball players in the country, and she has a significant social media presence,” Amodio said. “She brings a built-in audience to the marketplace. Gatorade came straight up to her and said, ‘Hey, we want you to be the face of some of our products.’ This is a whole new opportunity for student-athletes to consider how they can use their personal brands to their benefit.” 

Perhaps the most disruptive force in NIL is the emergence of collectives, where fans, boosters, alumni and local businesses donate money to expressly support student-athletes. But these are not traditional fundraising campaigns for capital improvements and other projects. 

Now, the money goes directly to the student-athletes or funds their NIL deals. Sometimes, both. These collectives operate independently of the university. Opponents of collectives call them “pay-to-play” loopholes. Supporters point out they are permissible under NIL and tax-exempt under section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Service code. 

“It used to be that offering money to players was prohibited. Now it's not,” Amodio said flatly. “Look at Texas Tech football. They have a collective where the football players [85 scholarship players and 15 walk-ons] will receive $25,000 a year. Now, you know if you sign with Texas Tech, you’re going to have $25,000 put in your pocket for the four or five years you're there.” 

At Texas Tech, The Matador Club is “a community-serving NIL collective,” according to its website. But the Red Raiders are hardly alone. Tennessee, Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, Kansas State, Texas Christian and Utah are some of the other schools with collectives, according to Opendorse. 

“Collectives have become a very powerful recruiting inducement. From a very broad-based NIL perspective, that's what we're dealing with right now,” Amodio said. “So the whole idea of what the NIL means from one school to the next is still emerging at this point. I just hope we get more national rulings on this instead of individual state ones, so we all have the same set of rules that we’re playing by.” 

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