By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – As far as summer practice goes, the Iowa women’s basketball team’s workout on Thursday looked and sounded pretty typical.
The players participated in multiple drills on offense and defense, some as a team and others in small groups.
When practice ended, the players huddled around head coach Lisa Bluder, who then stressed during a short pep talk the importance of practicing like a champion.
“The championships, they don’t begin in January,” Bluder said to the media after having addressed her team. “They begin today. They begin in June and July, you know, hot, grinding practice sessions. That’s when it all starts.”
Bluder without question has conveyed that message before, so even her post-practice speech was pretty typical for this time of year.
But on the other hand, Thursday’s practice was different in one respect because July 1 marked the beginning a new era, and some will say long overdue, in college athletics in which student-athletes can now make money from their name, image and likeness.
“For me, I just came off practice so nothing changed,” Bluder said. “It’s still business as usual for us. The things we just cautioned our team about is basketball and academics are first and foremost. And if you’re not good in those two areas, nobody is going to want your name, image or likeness anyway.
“So do the best you can on the floor, off the floor and that’ll probably make you a little bit more marketable.”
Bluder’s staff attended a workshop on Wednesday with members of the Iowa men’s basketball staff, and with UI compliance, to discuss how best to handle name, image and likeness.
Bluder believes that with Iowa’s success in women’s basketball, which includes two trips to the NCAA Sweet 16 in the last three seasons, and with Iowa’s strong fan support, that her players will be able to cash in on this new opportunity.
Bluder also believes that name, image and likeness could help with recruiting.
“I’m really proud of Iowa,” Bluder said. “I think that we are so far ahead of this. We had an hour workshop yesterday with compliance and men’s basketball to help prepare the women for this.
“But I also think in recruiting, we can be very marketable. In this community, as well as we draw, as far as recruiting, I think kids can make money here. And why not if they can?”
Iowa features one of the top players in the country in guard Caitlin Clark, who earned All-America honors as a freshman this past season after leading the Big Ten in scoring and assists.
Clark was also a five-star recruit coming out of West Des Moines Dowling Catholic, so she has a lot to market.
Clark said Thursday that she will handle name, image and likeness much like she did the recruiting process when virtually every school in the country was trying to get her to sign.
“I think that kind of relates to my recruitment, too, my parents didn’t overwhelm me with that,” Clark said. “I had a lot of help with that, too, until the end. Obviously, it was my decision to come here.
“They’re trying to pitch to you their product or their business or whatever. So it’s almost more business-like in a way. It’s interesting. It’s kind of hard to answers questions because it’s such uncharted territory.”
Clark said she plans to be “picky” about the opportunities she pursues.
“I don’t have the time to do everything, and I don’t want to do everything,” Clark said. “And, obviously, my focus is basketball. I want to take the team to a Final Four. And I still have school to go to.
“So it’s just adding another thing on top of everything else I’m already doing. But I have a lot of help behind me, and I’m super grateful for that.”
And while student-athletes now have the freedom and opportunity to make money from their name, image and likeness, there still are guideline and rules to follow, so communication will be a key.
“If you’re going to have an opportunity to make money, they need to not get permission, but they need to make sure that everybody knows what’s going,” Bluder said. “So it’s more to make sure that they’re not doing anything wrong NCAA-wise and still following Iowa policy.”
The Iowa players also could benefit from name, image and likeness should the team live up to expectations.
Iowa figures to be ranked among the top teams in the Big Ten heading into next season with almost all of the roster returning, and with the addition of Iowa State transfer Kylie Feuerbach.
“We welcome that,” said Bluder, who is entering her 22nd season as the Iowa head coach. “We want that. We want people to be talking about us as a top 15 or 10 team in the country. Why not? That’s what you work really, really hard for, so don’t shy away from it.
“Embrace it, and we talk about it. We know the target is going to be on our back a little, and we know we’re still kind of young. But there’s just so much optimism surrounding this team and we talk about it like we did at the end of practice today.”