Daniel Cormier: College Wrestlers Need ‘Realistic Expectations’ For NIL Agreements, Not Everyone Is Gable Steveson

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Few top athletes have supported varsity wrestling more than former UFC two-division champion Daniel Cormier, who was himself an All-American while competing at Oklahoma State University.

In recent years, collegiate wrestling programs have been forced to fight for survival as funding has been cut or diverted to support other sports instead. Last year alone, Stanford University was on the verge of cutting its wrestling program despite Shane Griffith winning the NCAA title at 165 pounds.

While money ran out to save many wrestling programs, the NCAA recently changed its rules to allow individual college athletes to start earning their own money under NIL (name, picture, likeness) agreements, which resulted in an influx of money. many big named sponsors.

2020 Olympic gold medalist and NCAA champion wrestler Gable Steveson is a prime example of an athlete working within the new system after signing a lucrative three-year NIL contract with World Wrestling Entertainment ahead of his junior year. in competition at the University of Minnesota.

The allure of making money in professional wrestling or even a potential stint in mixed martial arts could have forced Steveson to forgo the last two years of eligibility he maintained in Minnesota, but instead he will be able to come back and compete for another NCAA Championship while earning money next.

As exciting as this deal is for Steveson so he can return for at least a year, Cormier warns other athletes that a 21-year-old Olympic champion could be a bit of a unicorn in the NIL space compared to what the Most college wrestlers will do.

“A guy like Gable Steveson can go get the money,” Cormier explained while speaking to MMA Fighting. “It’s just not that there isn’t a lot of money for these wrestlers. I’m not trying to be negative, I want to be realistic. If you have a realistic expectation, you can go and earn some money in this NIL. But make sure you know what your worth is, especially since you’re still in a sport that doesn’t get the coverage that these other sports get.

“These basketball players like Jalen Green and Cade Cunningham, these kids who just got drafted, they’re going to be millionaires before they even leave college now, but not all sports.”

Cormier has certainly seen the explosion of NIL agreements in varsity athletics since the rules were changed.

The management company Cormier has called home since deciding to become a fighter also recently signed a deal with an NCAA champion, but that still doesn’t mean it will become a new standard for all wrestlers. academics.

“The management company I’m with with Zinkin Entertainment signed Austin O’Connor,” Cormier said. “Austin O’Connor is the guy who won the NCAA tournament at 149 pounds from North Carolina. He’s going to be fantastic but that’s only for his name, his image, his likeness because that’s all you can do for these kids while you’re waiting.

“But I just think you have to have a real idea of ​​what the scenery looks like. Because you can promise these kids the world. You saw it. [Alabama head coach] Nick Saban says his quarterback is going to make a million dollars. It becomes a recruiting tool for Alabama – you start for Alabama, you can make all that money in the NIL when other places you can’t.

As much as Cormier would love to see big business start pumping more money into varsity wrestling through athletes, he knows it’s still only a handful that will ultimately benefit.

“You have to understand the wrestling landscape and tell these young men and women a real idea of ​​what they can and can’t do,” Cormier said. “I think that’s what people are going to have to navigate when they start making these deals.

“Because remember when this thing was first announced, all these young wrestlers had silver and green in their eyes and that’s not the reality. People will give them products.

The fact that Stanford nearly cut its program the same year an athlete competed for an NCAA championship proves the NIL deals could be a game-changer for some, but that doesn’t mean the fight to save the varsity wrestling is over. .

“It tells you how much they underestimate these wrestlers, who bring so much to these universities,” Cormier said. “Understand the scenery, set realistic expectations, then have someone come up with them for you. “

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