Last summer, we reported that precision demand marketing platform Integrate had launched a program to sponsor walk-on college athletes in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling against NCAA restrictions on compensation for college athletes, as well as the NCAA’s new interim policy allowing athletes to benefit from their name, image and likeness.
The first five recipients of the “College Game Changers” awards have been announced. They include not only walk-on athletes but also athletes in under-represented or under-funded sports. That describes Meiko Pearson, a volleyball player at Missouri University of Science & Technology. Volleyball, of course, is a high profile sport but at Missouri S&T it’s Division II so scholarship support is limited.
The Integrate program. It was Meiko’s father who discovered the Integrate program. “My dad just happened to be scrolling online one day and happened to find it. I figured with the new rule change I should apply and give it a shot,” she told us. “Before, the NCAA wouldn’t let college athletes do things like this.”
Being a Division II team had meant splitting eight scholarships between over 20 girls, she said. “I received barely anything for my tuition, so this is helping so much for me.” Missouri S&T places a much heavier emphasis on academics than sports; all its teams are Division II with the exception of men’s volleyball which is Division I (mainly because there aren’t many men’s volleyball teams).
Medicine is her future. Meiko is majoring in pre-med and has earned her Certified Nursing Aide license. She was torn between becoming a veterinarian, her mother’s profession, and geriatric medicine, her grandmother’s. “Being with my grandma once while she was working at the practice she owned in Kansas City, I got to see the relationships she formed with all of her patients and how much of an impact she had on their well-being.” That made up her mind.
She started playing recreational volleyball at elementary school. “I fell in love with the sport from an extremely young age. What it’s taught me, going from rec to club volleyball to high school and now college, is that it’s not just the sport that I love. It’s the relationships I have with all my teammates. It’s taught me time management, leadership, communication for sure. It will help with what I want to do career-wise. Being a physician you need to communicate with all the other people around you, you need to be a leader, you need to be able to work through all the chaos.”
No career in professional volleyball then? “I’m not tall enough.”
The other recipients are Levi Dorsey, a walk-on football player at North Carolina State, Trey Hurlburt, a walk-on basketball player at University of Nevada, Nico Magri, a walk-on football player at University of Colorado and Emma Winters, a walk-on acrobatics and tumbling athlete at Gannon University.
Why we care. Not only is it good to see young athletes at long last able to accept some financial benefits after the long years of colleges profiting from their skills, it’s good to see a dream come true for Jeremy Bloom, co-founder and CEO of Integrate. A former Olympic skier and University of Colorado Boulder football player, Bloom sued the NCAA in 2004 to obtain a waiver so that he could accept the endorsements necessary as a professional skier while continuing to play college football. He lost and his football career was cut short by two years.
Integrate has said that Bloom has committed to spending millions of dollars to support eligible athletes and the college sports landscape over the next several years.