LONDON — Miami punter Lou Hedley had to travel 13,000 miles to Western Australia to cash in on his name.
The tattooed Australian and thousands of other international athletes at US universities have been told they cannot enjoy their name, image and likeness on US soil – although interpretations vary on what constitutes a job – so some go home to do it.
In Hedley’s case, it was a 37-hour trip that included a long layover in Qatar.
“It’s a pain in the back to have to fly but it’s worth it,” Hedley told The Associated Press after a day of filming promotional spots for LifeWallet in the city of Perth, where he was also visiting family ahead of his final season with the Hurricanes this fall. “I feel like I deserve to have some money, I brought wealth to the team (with) my name, my image and my likeness… so it was good to be kind of compensated for what I’ve done the last three years.”
Hedley declined to specify an exact figure but confirmed his NIL deal is in line with his teammates at around $50,000. Miami attorney John Ruiz actively enlisted the Hurricanes in NIL deals through his healthcare company LifeWallet.
Hedley, 28, one of Australia’s many college football punters, said he didn’t sign anything until he touched Down Under.
“The work is entirely done here, paid for here. As long as I do all my work in Australia, I get paid in Australia, I pay tax in Australia and it’s all legal. he said.
Nebraska basketball player Jaz Shelley also made a return trip to Australia on NIL contracts, and teammate Isabelle Bourne was planning to do the same. Mustapha Amzil, a 6ft 9in Dayton forward, has announced on social media that when he plays for his native Finland’s national team this summer he will be “open to any commercial and sponsorship agreement.”
Overall, however, international athletes are finding NIL waters difficult to navigate, with mixed messages about what’s going well, even now nearly a year after the NCAA lifted restrictions.
Some schools have told them to avoid NIL agreements altogether as they may jeopardize their visa status. Others say that outside of American soil, it’s fine. Ultimately, the federal government is the arbiter of visa issues and deportations.
“There is a ton of ambiguity” said Casey Floyd, co-founder of NOCAP Sports, which works with athletes to reach agreements and advocates for regulatory clarity. “You go to certain schools and they’re very flexible…and then you have a lot of schools that they just don’t want to touch because they’re so afraid of the ramifications.”
International athletes from West Virginia, for example, “do not participate in NIL opportunities due to current enforcement of federal immigration regulations”, said spokesman Michael Fragale. Drexel asked its overseas athletes to “please refrain from entering into any NIL agreement or engaging in paid NIL activity”, Mladenka Tomasevic, executive director of International Student and Scholars Services, wrote in February.
It’s a different story in Nebraska, where the women’s basketball program tweeted: “International NIL made possible!” adding that when Shelley and Bourne arrive on Australian soil “they will be legally eligible to participate in NIL activity.” Shelley then promoted her t-shirts and hoodies, as well as a Lincoln restaurant.
The University of Florida has told its internationals who are planning NIL activity in their home country to “well document their physical location” providing Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Records, “flight itinerary and overseas port of entry stamp.”
Irish basketball player Sam Alajiki of Cal hopes to stay at Berkeley to promote Next Up Recruitment, a Manchester, England-based company that helps athletes secure scholarships.
“He will literally retweet content. There’s no way it could be considered work,” said Next Up founder Ryan Cook, who also explored keeping payments in escrow or becoming an administrator of Alajiki’s social media account and posting that way.
“The last thing we want to do is break anyone’s visa status,” he said. “We are also working with Cal’s compliance team to make sure everything is okay. We received no rejection.
Just in case, however, the deal won’t start until September. Until then, there may be specific guidelines from the NCAA or relevant government agencies.
The NCAA’s initial notice stated that international athletes are covered by the interim NIL policy, but that students “may consider” consult with their school’s compliance officer “for advice related to maintaining their immigration status and tax implications.” If they have questions, they should write to the US Student and Exchange Visitor Program.
This program — SEVP — “keep evaluating” the issue, said Sarah Loicano, spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Kentucky forward Oscar Tshiebwe of Congo is among those calling on Congress to help foreign student athletes. The AP Player of the Year, who returns for his senior season, recently met with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to make his point. The financial benefit for Tshiebwe could exceed seven figures.
The vast majority of athletes hold F-1 visas which largely prohibit off-campus work. On-campus work is strictly limited. Foreign students at high school and preparation level also have everything to gain.
TCU tight end Alexander Honig of Germany said he did not pursue the “super small” offers made to him.
“Lately, I’ve been really focused on my sporting journey,” said Honig, who was drafted as a quarterback. “I think I have to get on the pitch first and play at a high level before I have to worry about NIL.”