- In late October, the University of Texas in Austin announced it had hired professor Mark Bunting to serve as entrepreneurship coach for its football team, the first such hire at a Division I program.
- Bunting teaches several entrepreneurship classes at the university, but has retooled his course materials to be more relevant to student-athletes.
- Bunting's coaching, which is elective, focuses on exposing the student-athletes to case studies of successful entrepreneurs, especially ones who were former college athletes. Bunting also provides one-on-one mentoring.
- The timing of the announcement anticipates an NCAA rule change which takes effect in January that will allow student-athletes, for the first time in history, to profit off their name, image, and likeness.
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In late October, the University of Texas' football program announced it had hired Moody College of Communications professor Mark Bunting to serve as entrepreneurship coach.
No Division I team has ever had such a position, says Bunting, but the increasing accessibility of entrepreneurship, combined with the changing landscape of college athletics, might soon make the position more commonplace.
Novel technologies, like Cameo and Patreon, have enabled individuals with large social followings to turn their reach into revenue. And in January, new legislation will allow student-athletes to monetize their name, image, and likeness for the first time in NCAA history. Together, these factors create a strong incentive for universities to help their athletes develop a basic understanding of entrepreneurship.
The idea for the position itself arose out of conversations that took place this summer between player-development coach Kevin Washington, head football coach Tom Herman, and Bunting.
In an attempt to familiarize members of the football team with the basic tenets of entrepreneurship, Washington had been splitting athletes into groups and having them compete against each other in entrepreneurial competitions. Washington discovered that Bunting, who has taught at the university for a decade, used a similar exercise in his classes.
In the spring, Washington invited Bunting to lend his expertise to help the student-athletes, and Bunting found the work rewarding, in part because he saw the sacrifice that the athletes were making to play sports for their school.
"A lot of these athletes don't have the same amount of free time that you or I might have to explore these really deep internships, because of the commitment they make to athletics," said Bunting. "So there was a gap there, and the question was: 'How do we get these athletes some exposure to entrepreneurship?'"
The trio agreed over the summer that getting Bunting involved in the team's entrepreneurial exercises would benefit the students, which led to the program's official launch in October.
Bunting's coaching focuses on providing examples of successful student-athlete entrepreneurs to make the pursuit more accessible.
Before offering any coaching in earnest, Bunting began the program by scheduling introductory phone calls with interested students. These discussions helped give Bunting a baseline understanding of the students' familiarity with key business concepts, as well as a sense of their personalities and passions.
Because the program is elective and the student-athletes have full schedules, the time investment is minimal; students come together for class only once a week, over Zoom, for a few hours.
The content of the classes consists mostly of guest speakers and case studies, as Bunting says that exposing students to examples of entrepreneurship is critical for making the subject feel more accessible.
The entrepreneurship coach is specifically intent on showing the student-athletes success stories of former college athletes who launched their own businesses. According to Bunting, this helps the students see what potential pathways for entrepreneurship look like for them.
"I have a curriculum that I've built for my existing classes, where I use a fair number of speakers — successful entrepreneurs — who come back and do 'show and tell,'" said Bunting. "So I augmented that to make it more compressed, and I retooled some of my speakers so they are more relevant for a student-athlete."
On top of bringing in these speakers, Bunting also provides mentoring for the student-athletes. Prior to teaching, Bunting worked in venture capital, launched several startups, and worked as the chief marketing officer at cloud computing company Rackspace. He encourages students who are curious about entrepreneurship to meet with him and discuss their ideas.
"When it comes to college athletics, everyone just thinks about the opportunities, but student-athletes have some unique challenges," said Bunting. "They put so many hours into athletics that they don't get some of the opportunities that you and I could take advantage of. In many ways, what we're doing is back-fill for that gap."
Bunting's position also gets ahead of new NCAA legislation that will allow student-athletes to monetize their name, image, and likeness.
In late April, the NCAA Board of Governors announced their support for proposed rule changes that would allow student-athletes to monetize their name, image, and likeness.
The new rules, when adopted in January 2021, will mark a sea change in the world of college athletics, as student-athletes have been forbidden from profiting off of their name, image, and likeness since the inception of the NCAA, more than a century ago.
Starting in fall 2021, student-athletes will be tasked with navigating the challenges and opportunities of being able to monetize themselves. Some young athletes, especially those with large social followings, might be able to translate their fame into five, six, or even seven-digit paydays while still enrolled as undergraduates. Indeed, according to reporting from USA Today, Tye Gonser, a lawyer who once worked with an agency that handled endorsement deals for athletes such as Reggie Bush, believes that elite college athletes could make millions of dollars.
While the legislation has not been released, these developments promise to add further complexity to the ecosystem of college athletics.
In light of this upcoming shift, Bunting's role as the coach of entrepreneurship takes on added weight. Bunting denied that his new position was prompted by these new rules, instead calling the timing a "click-up." Regardless of the changes in student-athlete monetization policies, says Bunting, the football players he is working with benefit from exposure to his entrepreneurship coaching.
While the University of Texas is the first school to hire a coach of entrepreneurship, the shifting landscape of college athletics could lead more schools to create similar positions in the near future.
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