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With 450K followers, UNLV basketball player well-positioned to profit from new rules

Updated July 7, 2021 - 4:00 pm

The world has changed, never to be the same, now that college athletes can swim in what had been a forbidden pool of opportunity.

TikTok, TikTok. The time of not being allowed to profit off oneself has rightly expired.

Name. Image. Likeness. All are fair game.

Social media?

It wasn’t specifically mentioned when the NCAA approved legislation that allows athletes to be compensated for things such as public appearances and autograph sessions and endorsement deals, but there is no more significant a tool by which to profit from the new rules.

Nothing says cashing in like interactive technologies like Instagram that allow for the creation or sharing of information.

Jordan McCabe is ahead of the game more than most, the UNLV basketball player having built a brand that includes hundreds of thousands of followers across different platforms.

He’s a transfer guard from West Virginia with two years of eligibility remaining and whose perspective on all things NIL is as sensible as it is savvy. Meaning, he’s not blindly diving in unless an offer makes sense.

“I think (legislation) was a long time coming,” McCabe said. “The question has always been, ‘Should college athletes be paid?’ I think the answer is no. But if college athletes want to go out and make their own money and monetize themselves or become an entrepreneur, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to do that.”

Show them the money

It’s all relative. The power of a social media influencer can generate a global base — see the combined 406 million followers of soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo — but also fiscally impact those on a much smaller scale.

Over such sites as Twitter and Instagram and TikTok, McCabe has in the neighborhood of 450,000 followers. He also has a YouTube channel with 14,000 subscribers and co-hosts the popular “Subject 2 Change” podcast.

At age 11, he appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” to demonstrate his dribbling skills. He knows well the public eye.

“I never really wanted to be only a basketball player, even though that’s my first obligation and the goal is to be the best one I can be,” McCabe said. “If you’re too one-dimensional, you lose out on a lot of things. We only get one chance at life. When it comes to my social media, I enjoy the content creation. Social media can be either a blessing or curse. For me, it’s a blessing.”

And, now, perhaps a profitable one.

It was mere hours after NIL legislation became reality when many surmised the athlete who might most capitalize financially wasn’t some Power Five football or basketball player.

Instead, it was Louisiana State gymnast Olivia Dunne and her combined 5 million social media followers.

Example: Both of my children follow Dunne on Instagram. Neither had any idea she competed at Lousiana State, only that she did some pretty amazing flips up and down the beach. The more mainstream the following, the better chance companies will pay top dollar. In the case of Dunne, millions of them.

Also, one of the first endorsement deals landed was for Fresno State basketball twins Hanna and Haley Cavinder (nearly 4 million combined followers), who announced live from Times Square in New York that they had signed sponsorships with Boost Mobile and Six Star nutrition.

You don’t necessarily have to be a social media influencer to benefit greatly from NIL.

Hercy Miller, an incoming freshman basketball player for Tennessee State, landed a $2 million deal with Los Angeles-based Web Apps America. Miller is the son of rapper Master P.

Arroyo all-in

It is a fascinating and yet uncertain time for athletes and universities alike, navigating the twists and turns of things such as contracts and personal branding and potential compliance issues.

But those who deny the massive role social media will play in the lives of college athletes and their desire to earn NIL money have their heads in the proverbial sand.

Marcus Arroyo isn’t one of them. The UNLV football coach is as active and present across social media as anyone else in the athletic department.

He gets it. Understands how pivotal it is to a player’s portfolio. Will support their desire to maximize earning potential through The Vegas Effect, an education-based platform providing UNLV student-athletes with tools and resources they need to profit off the NCAA policy.

“It has been a collaborative effort by (athletic director) Desiree (Reed-Francois) and our coaches and university,” Arroyo said. “We’re going to take the approach of teaching and educating our student-athletes in ways they can take advantage of it.

“Social media is an important part of our world now. I love it. I’ve embraced it. I’m excited about pushing forward and being positive about it.”

The long game

McCabe is pretty straightforward with his social media. A majority of his posts deal with the daily routine of a UNLV student-athlete. He often employs a camera and vlogs about such things.

He is considering signing with a management company that can better field those offers that might be presented someone with his substantial following.

Remaining compliant is important to him. So, too, is not taking shortcuts in the chase for NIL dollars. Both are messages McCabe relays to other athletes via his YouTube channel.

“I don’t want to do small deals and have kids who look up to me see a bunch of crazy posts about stuff maybe I don’t even like,” McCabe said. “Brands that I promote will be things I believe in. This is a back-burner thing for me. Social media always has been, no matter what people say or think.

“Basketball is the front burner. I want to go to the gym and work out twice a day and go to practice and help my guys be the best players they can be and win a Mountain West championship.

“I’m playing the long game when it comes to (NIL). I’m not out for quick cash grabs.”

Which, before this legislation passed, wouldn’t have been an option.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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