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At the University of Maryland, there's a new program changing the game for athletes


Student athletes have been returning to college and university campuses across the country. At the University of Maryland, the athletics department is rolling out a new program that is changing the game for players who need or want to make money through autographs, photos of themselves and appearances at events.

MINORKA MIRANDA: It opens the doors for every athlete.

MARTIN: That's Minorka Miranda. She is a junior at the University of Maryland and plays tennis for the Terrapins. When she arrived on campus as a freshman, the NCAA did not allow students to earn money through their participation in sport, saying they are amateurs and insisting that, despite the millions of dollars these institutions and various coaches and other personnel earned from collegiate sports, the education student athletes received was compensation enough. But last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the NCAA could not bar payments to student athletes. Following that decision, the organization announced that players would be able to profit from their names, images and likenesses.

MIRANDA: It was kind of wild 'cause everything that I knew, up to that point, was, like, college athletes can't make anything off their sport, and only professionals were really doing deals. And so then when the opportunity opened for athletes, it was kind of like, whoa.

MARTIN: At first, the new market was largely dominated by the highest-profile student athletes and traditional moneymakers, like football and basketball. But now her school is debuting a new platform called Maryland Marketplace with a goal of elevating all of its athletes. That means students who are in less-visible sports - like water polo, cross-country, fencing and even bowling - can promote their profiles, too. The university says the marketplace is among the first of its kind in the country. The site is a one-stop shop where fans can see profiles for every player and book paid appearances, social media shoutouts and other requests through the app. The athletes then decide whether or not to accept those offers, and if they do, they are paid directly on the site.

MIRANDA: Slowly, I saw more and more athletes sign deals immediately. It was kind of intimidating for us smaller sports because it's like, oh, should we be doing something? Everyone else is doing something, so where do we really start? And it did go really fast. And all of the sudden, deals were popping up left and right.

MARTIN: Some former Maryland football players charge as much as $5,000 for appearances and social media posts. Miranda charges much less, at a minimum of $10 for social media shoutouts and $25 for autographs. She also says she's been approached by jewelry stores and an energy drink company to promote products. But even though she might not be getting the same kinds of deals as more high-profile student athletes, she says it's still worth it. The marketplace allows her and other lesser-known players to get recognition they otherwise would not receive. And for Minorka Miranda, that makes a difference. As a first-generation American, tennis was her ticket to college.

MIRANDA: My parents sacrificed a lot to always be moving, always be traveling for tennis and stuff. So I definitely wanted to get that financial burden off of them when it came to college.

MARTIN: Miranda says now that she can earn money from her name, likeness and image, she and her teammates think about finances in a totally new way.

MIRANDA: I remember my teammates would give me, like, lessons at night being like, you know, this is how you budget, and this is how you're going to do it when you move out of the dorms and stuff. And you're going to have to take care of all your bills and everything. So it kind of shifted from that type of conversation to, oh, my gosh, I signed this deal. So now I can buy some Jordans that I wanted, you know? And it's kind of crazy because it's, like - I saw that shift and it happened so fast that it's incredible to see how much these conversations have changed.

MARTIN: She hopes this is just the first step in earning a living as a tennis player. Miranda promised her parents that she would get her degree first, but she's already got her sights set on going pro, where she can earn even bigger deals. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.