When Zack Oliver played football for Northwestern University, there was no way he or any of his teammates could make any money based on being a college athlete.

Take even a few bucks for, say, a public appearance or a product endorsement and you would lose your scholarship and your eligibility to play faster than an official throwing a flag for illegal use of hands.

But effective today, there is a new reality in place, as college athletes are allowed to profit from what’s called their NIL, or name/image/likeness.

And Zack Oliver’s company, Matchpoint Connection, aims to link athletes looking for money-making opportunities with businesses wanting to pay college sports celebrities for such things as appearing at a car dealership, or endorsing a restaurant.

“We’re in an interesting time,” Oliver says.

Faced with pressure from the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as from two dozen states (including Illinois) which passed NIL legislation, the rule-making body for college sports, the NCAA, is letting athletes make money from use of their name, image, or likeness.

While it’s likely the star wide receiver or hot-shooting point guard would get the most interest, Oliver, who was a backup quarterback for Northwestern from 2011-2016, says NIL provides a chance for many college athletes far beyond what many fans would expect.

“I think there are a lot of overlooked opportunities,” Oliver says, even in lower-profile, non-revenue sports.

For example, he says, consider women’s lacrosse. “How many moms and dads would like to host a session for their daughter and her friends, with a college team member as a guest trainer?” The answer, Oliver believes, is that there is a market out there even in niche sports which are not always the lead story on ESPN.

Oliver explains that Matchpoint Connection works like a dating site. An athlete goes on the Matchpoint app and creates a profile. Businesses do the same thing, and an algorithm makes links based on interest, location and other criteria.

At this outset, Oliver says he is concentrating on his alma mater, Northwestern, and merchants in Evanston and Chicago. He says Bat 17 and Clarke’s are two Evanston businesses that have already signed up.

As a native of Louisiana, Oliver is also focusing on Louisiana State University.

His long-term goal is to have “ambassadors” in “every college town in America” to market Matchpoint Connection to athletes and business owners.

Big-time powerhouses such as Alabama and Ohio State might at first blush seem like the schools where athletes would get the most NIL opportunities, and perhaps that’s true for national business deals.

But for local business connections, Oliver says a school like Northwestern might have a leg up in attracting athletes, because marketing opportunities in a metropolitan area like Chicago are far greater than what exists in a university town in a small community.

As with so many other things these days, social media is critical. NIL gives athletes a chance to “enhance their brand,” and perhaps make money by being a “social media influencer,” Oliver says.

NIL creates a whole new world for college athletes. Zack Oliver believes Matchpoint Connection may be the first company to have an athlete-merchant deal signed via its app.

Just after midnight, once NIL became college sports policy, Matchpoint announced a deal between LSU defensive back Derek Stingley Jr. and Walk-Ons, a sports bar chain in the South.

Stay tuned. The prospects for NIL are anything but nil.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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