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While Wisconsin athletes are making big-time NIL cash, foreign student-athletes are left out; a Senate bill could change that

While Wisconsin athletes are making big-time NIL cash, foreign student-athletes are left out; a Senate bill could change that


After decades of watching athletic departments rake in millions on their labor without receiving any of it, college athletes can finally profit off their name, image and likeness. These NIL payments can be for any service, including autographs, live appearances, broadcast or social media advertisements.

But one group of high-level college athletes still cannot cash in: international students.

At least not on U.S. soil. But a bill in Congress might change things.

This story is provided by BadgerStripes.comBadger Stripes is an online sports news organization that provides in-depth coverage of UW athletics. Follow on Facebook..

Foreigners usually have to use an F-1 student visa to attend college in the U.S. and that document does not allow them to work for pay.

This affects UW student-athletes like 6’9” junior Markus Ilver, of Tallinn, Estonia, on the basketball team. On the world-beating volleyball team, Anna Smrek, the tallest player in program history at 6’9”, hails from Ontario, Canada. Sophomore libero Gülce Güçtekin is from Istanbul in Turkey and junior hitter Julia Orzol is from Poland.

Wisconsin student-athletes can be contacted on the openendorse website, where they offer their services. They can also make deals with anyone or any company they want for any pay rate, as long as they provide a service in return.

NIL payments can come from a variety of sources and don’t need to be publicly reported, so estimating the market is difficult.

Some organizations try. Running back Braelon Allen, one of Wisconsin’s most high-profile athlete, has an annual NIL value of more than $400,000, according to an estimate by On3.

And earlier this year, UW had to come up with hundreds of thousands of dollars in NIL deals to keep Chucky Hepburn and Connor Essegian from departing for headhunting schools trying to poach them, Badger Stripes has learned.

Even walk-on basketball players can now make sums $50,000 per year in NIL deals, an insider told Badger Stripes.

Student-athletes can also profit from camps that they host or make appearances.

International student-athletes at Wisconsin can be contacted on their openendorse profiles and receive pay for services, and the athletic department tells Badger Stripes that those students can take part in NIL activities and be compensated for them while in their home countries on breaks.

A photo of Anna Smrek of the Wisconsin Badgers volleyball team.
Anna Smrek of the Wisconsin Badgers volleyball team. She hails from Ontario in Canada.

Former Kentucky basketball star Oscar Tshiebwe, now with the Indiana Pacers, hails from the Democratic Republic of Congo. During a team trip to the Bahamas last year, he shot and recorded commercials, raking in around $500,000, according to news reports.

Michigan State men’s basketball player Mady Sissoko, a 6’9” senior, donates his NIL earnings to help those in his native Mali in West Africa.

In October, Sens. Pete Ricketts (R-Nebraska), who owns the Chicago Cubs with his family, and Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut)  introduced a bipartisan bill that would grant international student-athletes access to NIL deals on U.S. soil.

“Part-time jobs are staples of the collegiate experience,” Ricketts said in a press release that accompanied the bill. “The student visa needs to be updated to reflect the new NIL rules in collegiate athletics. International student athletes should be able to pursue the same opportunities as their fellow athletes from hosting summer camps for kids to appearing at events. Our common-sense bill will level the playing field to ensure American sports programs don’t lose talented student athletes because of our outdated visa system.”

“International students should be fairly compensated—just like American citizens—when profits are made from their athletic prowess,” Blumenthal was quoted in the same press release.

The bill faces an uncertain future. It has been referred to the judiciary committee for debate.

TOP PHOTO: Wisconsin vs. Ohio State on Oct. 18, 2023 (PHOTO: UWBadgers.com Ashley Steltenpohl)

By Peter Cameron, BADGER STRIPES

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