WASHINGTON — Julia Orzol’s profile on Opendorse, a marketplace that connects student-athletes with brands seeking testimonials and appearances, said she could charge $19 to film a video for a fan and $89 to post for her 15,000 Instagram followers.
However, Orzol isn’t allowed to accept these offers despite two standout seasons as an outside hitter for the four-time reigning Big Ten champion and 2021 national champion University of Wisconsin volleyball program.
Orzol, a native of Olsztyn, Poland, attends UW on a student visa. And student visas, created for an era long before college sports became big business, prevent her from monetizing her name, image and likeness, known as NIL.
Since a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2021, college athletes have been permitted to turn their local fame into real money by endorsing products, making paid posts on social media and even recording birthday videos for fans. NIL has exploded into a multi-million-dollar industry, providing a lucrative side hustle for some college athletes and delivering massive paydays to the biggest stars.
But international athletes, even elite performers like Orzol, are stuck on the free-market bench.
“I’ve never really focused on the opportunities I could have because I know that there’s no legal chance that I could have them,” Orzol said.
At UW, 7% of athletes come from outside of the U.S., Badgers NIL director Brian Mason said. Most are on what is called an F-1 visa, which allows only on-campus employment, such as working in the campus bookstore, an off-campus employment directly related to a student’s major. With unclear guidance from the federal government on what constitutes “on-campus employment,” schools ask their athletes to err on the side of caution.
“This is not something that falls under the NCAA umbrella. You’re talking about the federal government,” Mason said. “So the stakes there are a little higher in making sure student-athletes are aware of the restrictions related to their visas.”
Meanwhile, American athletes at UW have jumped aboard the NIL train. Running back Braelon Allen and former quarterback Graham Mertz teamed up with Pepsi last season to post on social media and hand out Pepsi to fans in Madison. Allen’s total NIL deals are worth $633,000, an estimate from On3 claimed. Big Ten athletes have completed more NIL deals than any other conference, Opendorse data said.
Beyond deals with big-name brands, students can make extra cash from doing autograph signings with a local business or promoting a fan’s art on social media.
The “You-Dub Marketplace” where fans can connect with Badgers athletes through Opendorse shows varying prices. Freshman men’s basketball player Connor Essegian is valued at $300 with a social media profile of 47,000 TikTok followers and more than 49,000 Instagram followers.
Women’s track and field athlete Julia Moore starts at $176 with more than 100,000 TikTok followers. National championship-winning women’s hockey captain Britta Curl starts at $50. The low end starts at $5.
At the beginning of the 2022-23 women’s basketball season, senior guard Julie Pospisilova said she was offered a $6,000 endorsement opportunity on Opendorse. The average compensation for a women’s basketball guard is $2,860 per deal, according to Opendorse.
Despite being the UW’s leading scorer and the 28th player in program history to score 1,000 career points, Pospisilova had to turn down the offer. Meanwhile, one of her teammates cashed in.
“I was in the position on the team that I should get those deals,” Pospisilova said. “Kind of feeling like ‘Why I’m not allowed to do it?’ I deserve it. I put the work in.”
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which oversees the student visa program, has not provided clear guidance on what international student-athletes are allowed to do, saying only that it “continues to assess” the issue, an ICE spokesperson from the Department of Homeland Security said.
That has left sports agents and immigration lawyers pushing for Congress and federal agencies to find a solution. Casey Floyd, the founder of agency NOCAP sports, said the Department of Homeland Security could clarify the definition of on-campus employment to include NIL deals by issuing a policy memorandum.
Eventually, immigration lawyers say that Congress should create a subcategory of the F-1 visa designed specifically for student-athletes. New Zealand-based sports agent Tay Hawker, who has represented international athletes, is not optimistic that Congress will act.
“None of us can vote,” he said. “There’s no campaign to help push the needle for them because they don’t get anything out of it.”
Congress has yet to pass NIL legislation detailing what athletes can and cannot do, leaving regulation of the system up to state legislatures, who do not control federal visa rules. Wisconsin’s state legislature has not considered NIL legislation and Wisconsin legislators did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the status of NIL legislation.
Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), who sponsored a bill that would allow college athletes to unionize, said NIL should be available for all NCAA athletes, regardless of their citizenship.
“We open our doors to those coming here who want to work or go to school,” said Bowman, a former football player at the University of New Haven. “But then we take more advantage of them and their skills than we give back.”
One loophole for international student-athletes is to pursue deals while they’re outside of the U.S. Mason said UW’s staff ensures that its 50 international athletes know that they can engage in NIL activities while in their home nations.
Pospisilova said she prefers to spend the little time she gets in the Czech Republic each year with family. Orzol said that UW’s NIL staff still encourages her to avoid deals with American brands, despite her market being in Wisconsin, not Poland.
Orzol tries not to think about her inability to benefit from NIL. But sometimes it’s right in her face, like when local clothing brands leave apparel at every locker — aside from hers and Turkish freshman Gulce Guctekin’s.
“You just feel somehow different,” Orzol said. “[You’re] treated differently, and you know that those people who are around you would never want you to feel treated differently when it comes to that.”