A New Era

Name, Image, Likeness

Fresno State student-athletes are at the forefront when it comes to navigating new money-making opportunities

By BoNhia Lee

If there’s any advice that Fresno State’s biggest TikTok stars can give to others, it’s to “be yourself and don’t do anything crazy.”

It also helps to be a twin, say the Cavinders — Haley and Hanna.

The Cavinder twins, juniors on the Fresno State women’s basketball team, started showing off their dribbling and shooting skills choreographed to today’s music hits on the popular social media platform out of boredom during the pandemic. The last thing they expected was to gain more than 3 million followers on their shared account, which helped lead them to become the nation’s first college athletes to earn money off their name, image and likeness.

After years of debate, the NCAA on June 30, 2021 adopted new regulations that allow student-athletes to benefit financially from their name, image and likeness through social media accounts, advertising campaigns and more.

The next day, Haley and Hanna Cavinder stood side-by-side in New York City’s Time Square staring up at an enormous electronic billboard emblazoned with their photo in Fresno State uniforms to celebrate their first major deal with wireless provider Boost Mobile. They also signed with Six Star Pro Nutrition, a sports supplement company.

Since then, the twins have also made deals with Gopuff, a consumer goods delivery service, PSD underwear, and Student Beans, a website that gives students discounts. In late August, they were among a few Fresno State athletes to appear in fun and witty commercials for Valley-based Fresno First Bank.

“[The NIL] was long overdue,” says Hanna Cavinder, who was named all-Mountain West Conference for the second straight year after averaging 17 points per game. “Everyone can benefit from it in their own unique way. The quarterback would be doing something different for NIL than me and Haley would be doing. Not everyone is going to go pro after their sport, so if you can make money in college and try to use that, then I think that is positive.”

Being among the first female student-athletes to score a major deal meant even more for the twins.

“That meant a lot to Hanna and I — being girls and just [having a] younger audience looking up to us — showing younger girls that they can do the same thing as us,” says Haley Cavinder, who is the reigning Mountain West Player of the Year after averaging 19.8 points per game.

“It’s just a cool moment for women in sports. I think that everyone just thinks about the top football players and their schools in the Power 5, but to be able to do this and to attend a mid-major school as women, I think that was a really cool moment for us.”

Fresno State sees the NIL as an opportunity for student-athletes to profit from their talents like any other student on campus. And like many universities nationwide, Fresno State is helping student-athletes navigate this new world and using it as a recruitment tool. The University announced on July 1, a renewed partnership with Opendorse “to support the entrepreneurial endeavors of all student-athletes.”

Student-athletes are free to sign with agents who can broker endorsement deals, but they are subject to state laws and other rules developed by individual universities. Navigating through this name, image, likeness world will be a challenge, not for negative reasons, but because it’s a new frontier, said Fresno State Director of Athletics Terry Tumey.

“We felt really great when this new landmark legislation happened throughout the nation [because] who are the ones setting the stage for it? The Cavinder sisters,” Tumey says. “Our student-athletes are the ones out there saying, ‘Hey, this is a new thing and guess what? We’re a great example of how this should look.’ We’re very proud that they’re Bulldogs and they represent us.”

The Cavinders aren’t the only Fresno State athletes getting into the NIL action. Fresno State football defensive end David Perales also appeared in his own Fresno First Bank commercial about teamwork and leadership, as did former softball standout Hailey Dolcini.

“It changes a lot of things for student-athletes,” Perales says. “Being able to profit off our own image is awesome. Making any type of profit off of any opportunity that comes our way is huge, especially while being a student-athlete.”

ronnie rivers

Yet there are some student-athletes who are cautious about the money-making opportunities. In an interview with The Coloradoan, a newspaper in Fort Collins, Colo., Fresno State running back Ronnie Rivers (pictured-left) seemed more worried about the season, saying “I don’t want the NIL stuff to distract me from my main goal, which is to win the [Mountain West] championship and then move on to the next level, this being my last year. If opportunities arise where it won’t affect my level of play or my performance, then I’m all for it. But if it’s affecting what I’m doing on the field or taking a toll on my sleep or body, I’m OK with not participating in any of that.”

david perales

Rivers’ teammate Perales (pictured-right) echoed that sentiment. “I’m not saying that these opportunities are distractions, because I don’t feel like they are, but I am more focused on football and my team right now,” Perales says. “So if any more opportunities come up, I would wait until after season.”

Back on campus after spending the pandemic at home in Gilbert, Arizona, with their family, the Cavinders, who are business majors with a concentration in marketing, are getting ready for pre-season training in October. Their classes are virtual this semester allowing for some extra time to fit in TikTok videos and content building for the companies they work with.

Their videos usually happen naturally, in the moment sometimes before practice, sometimes after or during and sometimes at home. “It’s OK, let’s film a TikTok. We just got dressed and put on some makeup,” Haley Cavinder says. “We’re just trying to have fun with it and not stress much about it.”

Their strategy hasn’t changed much, Hanna Cavinder says. “I would just say it’s really about figuring out what our fans want to see and just connecting with our audience,” she says.

Is there a downside to this new deal?

“Definitely the arguments when we’re filming the TikToks,” Hanna Cavinder says. “I’m extremely grateful for everything that has happened. I would say the only other downside is how much time you have to put in behind the scenes. I don’t think people understand how much time you have to put in it. My family, my teammates and our business team have been very helpful for Haley and I.”

At the end of the day, the Cavinders are still students and athletes.

“Our goal is for us to win the regular season championship and then go to the March Madness Tournament from the Mountain West Championship in March,” Haley Cavinder says. “That’s the main focus. We’re excited about this team and this group of girls we have so we’re really excited this season.”