Back in February I wrote about how Texas was one of the handful of programs getting in front of the coming name, image and likeness (NIL) legislation by giving their football players the tools to market themselves from the moment they stepped on campus.
Texas -- along with Nebraska and Oklahoma -- welcomed its 2020 recruiting class with customized logos for each player. It was done in a wink-wink, sleight of hand kind of way. The logos could just be an example of how far Texas and others are willing to go to make their new players feel welcome... or it could be the building block of a brand that will level well beyond a player's time in burnt orange, crimson or Husker red.
"It’s not hard at all to squint into the future and see these logos leap from social media to the real world," I wrote at the time. "Perhaps a Cam Juice t-shirt is stocked for sale alongside standard Nebraska gear inside the Memorial Stadium gift shops, with player and school splitting the proceeds.
"Maybe Cam Juice skips the middle man and sells his own t-shirts directly from his own online boutique. Perhaps we see that Cam Juice on pop sockets, on athletic socks, on juice boxes in the near future."
Now, though, Texas -- like Nebraska -- isn't whispering anymore. It's shouting.
On Monday -- the day before written offers can go out the 2022 recruiting class -- UT launched LEVERAGE, a new, department-wide program to help all Longhorns, well, leverage their status as Texas athletes into dollar bills.
"LEVERAGE, which is part of the new the new 4EVER TEXAS program, is composed of four main areas of focus: Personal Branding & Brand Management, Business Formation & Entrepreneurship, Opportunity Management and Financial Literacy," the announcement said.
"In the ever-evolving college sports landscape, student-athletes are more interested than ever in advancing their personal brand and setting themselves up for a successful future. With unmatched brand identity and unrivaled campus resources, Texas Athletics is well-equipped to offer its student-athletes that opportunity."
Monday's announcement by the school was heavy on marketing -- Austin! Longhorn Network! Millions of social media followers! Half a million living alumni! -- and light on specifics. (That includes why LEVERAGE is stylized in all caps.)
But the message is the marketing, at least for right now. "Come to Texas," the school said Monday, "and we'll give you the tools that will get you paid. Not if and when you're in the League, not after you graduate -- we'll get you paid now."
"With the NIL opportunities coming in the near future, the establishment of the LEVERAGE program is a personal development area where we will provide unmatched resources when it comes to building our players' brands," Tom Herman said.
As detailed by the Austin American-Statesman, the LEVERAGE program arms Texas athletes with all the power of the nation's richest athletics department.
In practical terms, that means access to department staff to help them navigate tax law and, crucially, the ability to wear UT branding in advertisements and even potentially appear in commercials for UT sponsors.
In the near future, every major college athletics department will do its best to arm its athletes with similar opportunities. The movement is well underway across the country. But, Texas told recruits Monday, no one's going to do it like us.