UConn's Geno Auriemma is already fielding questions about endorsements. He's warning about 'unintended consequences'

UConn coach Geno Auriemma said he supports players profiting off their name, image and likeness.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma said he supports players profiting off their name, image and likeness.

Michael Conroy / Associated Press

STORRS — Paige Bueckers has been among the faces of the movement to allow college athletes to profit off their image and soon sign endorsement deals.

With the NCAA moving to allow athletes to earn money and hire representation as states across the country enacted name, image and likeness laws, eyes are fixed on the UConn women’s basketball program. Bueckers, with a healthy social media following, figures to benefit when UConn’s policy goes live July 12, opening her up to being able to do anything from signing endorsement deals to autographs for profit at a local business.

Geno Auriemma, conversing with the media outside Gampel Pavilion Thursday, recounted a recent conversation with his star player.

“You know what makes this go away?” Auriemma said he asked Bueckers. “She goes, ‘Yeah, if I suck.’

“So the No. 1 thing is still, you better be good at basketball or none of these opportunities come along.”

On the day when some players across the country began earning compensation through everything from social media posts to Cameo shoutouts, Auriemma shrugged when asked about the new landscape in college sports.

“I don’t have a problem with them having an opportunity to have what essentially comes down to a part-time job,” Auriemma said. “It’s just another thing you got to talk to them about. It’s another thing you have to be diligent about.”

Yet there’s only so much Auriemma, Chris Dailey and the UConn staff can do. Players, he said, have sought guidance in choosing an agent or representation. That’s not his role, he said, based on UConn’s policy and the state law signed by Gov. Ned Lamont Wednesday.

UConn is on the verge of hiring a third-party company to manage NIL matters. The school will provide education, but Auriemma said there’s only so much he can do.

“The policy’s very clear. I’m not involved. I’m not telling you, don’t sign with this person, make sure you sign with that person … I’m not in that part of the world,” Auriemma said. “I can guide them to stay away from things that will get them in trouble, whether it’s with university policy, state of Connecticut policy, NCAA policy, any thing that affects eligibility or whatever, I can help them with that. I can’t dictate to them who to do business with. They have it spelled out for them exactly what types of businesses they cannot get involved in. So it’s a whole new world.”

Auriemma said the outside company will instruct the athletes on what the school and coaches can and cannot do. There will be communication with parents, too.

“It puts a lot of the onus on the kids,” Auriemma said. “I don’t know if people understand that. You got 18, 19 year olds up there interviewing agents.”

There has been a dialogue between the coaches and the players. Players have been trickling into his office, asking questions, musing about what may be.

“I just made a simple request — before you get into any agreement, you probably should run it by me or compliance, just to make sure that what you are signing is copacetic,” Auriemma said. “The last thing we want is for you (to say), ‘Coach, I got this great deal’ … Yeah, great, now you’re ineligible. So that’s been the message so far.”

Bueckers and incoming freshman Azzi Fudd could monetize their name based on their game. Other players — such as Olivia Nelson-Ododa — have large social media followings and could be compensated for sponsored posts.

The rest of the team? There’s an array of ways players can make money, but the income will vary.

Could that lead to unrest among players?

“The other perception out there is that every single kid on your team is going to get a ton of offers to make money,” Auriemma said. “And that’s just not true, on any team. You know, the guys who play on the Lakers know that LeBron makes X and Anthony Davis makes Y and everybody else makes some other letter, but it ain’t X or Y. It’s, and they know, this is how I get compensated for what I do. But those are adults. Those are adults, those are men.

“Now you’re asking 18-year-olds: Do you understand that there’s no demand for you. And there’s a lot of demand for her, or these three and none for you. That’s not created by me. That’s the beauty of it. None of it’s created by me. Playing time, that’s a different issue. You want to argue that. But honestly, I don’t know how you can keep it out of the locker room, keep it out of your team dynamics.”

Auriemma, who insists he does support players being compensated, warned that the impact on team dynamics could be tangible across the country.

“All these people that were up in arms about, make sure players can get paid and all this … that’s all well and good, that’s great,” Auriemma said. “Don’t be complaining when your favorite team falls apart because five guys are transferring, because they don’t like the fact that five other guys are getting a lot of money.

“There’s a lot of unintended consequences that come from this. A lot of good too. A lot of good.”

Auriemma likened college athletes to the professional golfers or tennis players or even a young major league baseball player who is earning compensation at the same age. It’s only fair, he said, that college athletes also make money.

“You say, well they don’t go to school, they’re pros,” Auriemma said. “Tell me what kid playing at this level doesn’t put in as much time as any professional athlete.”

Will there be a day when Auriemma is recruiting a player, meeting with parents and an agent?

“Oh yeah, I’m sure that will happen,” Auriemma said. “And I’ll be able to tell the agent right up front — one of three things is going on here. Either you, this kid, or these parents, or all three of you are delusional if you think you’re going to make a lot of money.

“Or there might be a kid that I can say, listen, there’s going to be a ton of opportunities for you guys. And you know, you want to handle this the right way.”

paul.doyle@hearstmediact.com