By any social media measure, Dylan Geick is an “influencer,” someone whose platforms are sought by businesses to advertise their products and make him money. It’s one reason the NCAA picked his brain as it navigates demands for athletes to be compensated.
Geick was a Columbia University wrestler in the 2017-18 season and given his social media profile, he and the school had to walk a fine line to avoid violating NCAA policies that strictly prohibit athletes from earning compensation beyond a scholarship.
That might be changing after Tuesday’s announcement that the NCAA board of governors voted “to allow athletes to profit from their names, images and likenesses.” Specific details are yet to be worked out.
With his 737,000 followers on Instagram and 202,000 on YouTube, Geick, 21 and openly gay, is part of a new breed of athletes steeped in social media and with the ability to monetize quickly on their fame.
Geick was among a small group of athletes who met with what was called the NCAA Board of Governors Federal and State Working Group this summer in Dallas to help them understand this new world.
““I met with the NCAA to discuss the future of their name, image, and likeness policies,” Geick told Outsports.
“The opinion that I expressed to the committee was that they ought to consider a new policy based around managing and guiding the growth of these financial opportunities, rather than attempt to further stifle them.
“It’s apparent to me that the floodgates are already half-open. Successful young athletes like boxer Ryan Garcia, who do not have the same restrictions as NCAA athletes, are able to create thriving and powerful personal media accounts that grow their own brand.
“The NCAA would benefit greatly from the increased exposure and should worry most about guidance of the young athletes as they build these communities.”
Geick came out as an openly champion gay high school wrestler in 2017 and his social media profile exploded. Among other projects, he released a book of poetry, endorsed numerous products on social media and produced regular YouTube videos, with the most viewed being his advice on coming out.
While on the wrestling team at Columbia, Geick worked with the school to allow him to continue his social media presence as long as any product or business endorsements did not capitalize on his being a wrestler.
“During my freshman year, I both wrestled at Columbia and worked as an ‘influencer’ and made money by directly using my name, image, and likeness,” Geick said.
“I was allowed to do this through a waiver process where I had to prove that my wrestling did not contribute to the growth of my personal brand.
“My role in front of this [NCAA] committee was to express how a modern college athlete might benefit financially off of their newfound celebrity. I wanted to help them better understand that the old idea of modeling contracts, TV commercials and usual advertisements that athletes might have engaged in 20 years ago would no longer be a concern.
“Today, high-profile college athletes will seamlessly blend their online profiles on social media and their ability to sponsor and advertise with partnered companies. I explained to them the possibility of having athletes create a YouTube celebrity around their experiences and what an athlete under those new pressures and with modern opportunities might experience.”
Though no longer an active NCAA athlete — Geick has just enlisted in the U.S. Army — he said NCAA officials at the meeting peppered him with questions about a social media landscape many of them are unfamiliar with.
The topic has taken on an urgency after California passed a law allowing athletes to profit from their image and likeness.
The NCAA’s ban on athletes making money has long been under assault and Tuesday’s vote by its board appears to be a recognition that change is coming, a point Geick said he stressed.
“From a personal ethical perspective, I think it is wrong to prohibit athletes from seeking opportunities for growth and financial success,” he said. “However, I understand that the NCAA has concerns over how such opportunities would affect the atmosphere and priorities of athletes at such a young age.
“The members of the committee I spoke to were well aware of the huge shift in culture that a reverse of their policy would bring. Amateurism would be much harder to determine, and a trickle-down effect could happen where athletes still in high school could make money, build a personal brand and become politicized before even entering college.”
Prior to the NCAA board vote this week, another out athlete, WNBA star Diana Taurasi, pointed out the hypocrisy on the compensation issue on an episode of the HBO show “The Shop.”
“You’re challenging a system that’s been entrenched in money in, in power, in a certain way of thinking for a long time,” said Taurasi of the Phoenix Mercury, who played in college at Connecticut.
“A couple months ago I had a good friend on [the UConn] campus, she goes to the student union and takes a picture,” Taurasi said. “Who do they have hanging up there? Number 3 jersey, Number 10 jersey. Sue [Bird], 50 [Rebecca] Lobo. I graduated in 2002, we’re talking abut 10 years later and they’re still making money off of us. And the disappointing part about that is if you don’t graduate and you have a tough moment, then you become demonized for not finishing college and that can ruin you for the rest of your life.”
There is justified skepticism about the the sincerity of the NCAA’s move and about how much it’s instead an attempt to blunt other states from following California’s lead. But as Geick said, change is happening and it’s in everyone’s interest to get out in front.
Daniel Villarreal contributed to this article.