BOISE, Idaho — Sports means big business for colleges and universities across the country, but while those schools have raked in the profits from tickets sales and merchandise, the real stars of that business never saw a dime — but that's quickly changing.
Thanks to a new policy put in place last year by the NCAA, student-athletes are finally starting to get a little bit of financial help. In the Treasure Valley, local businesses are stepping up to help those athletes both on and off the field.
When the NCAA finally allowed college student-athletes to use their name, image, and likeness for compensation outside of their sport, many people thought only the household names would see the benefits.
"I guess I thought that maybe it wasn't open to an athlete like me where as maybe it was open to big football players and big basketball players," said BSU soccer centerback Jocelyn Stephens.
That thinking isn't completely wrong. Take for example a tweet showing a Boise State Football player partnering with a local car dealership to get a new truck — while that might be life-changing for him, it's not the reality for most student-athletes.
"Before I didn't even think it was possible to have a job while being a student-athlete, but I felt like, I mean, there's so many expenses you need to consider as a student-athlete so any extra bit of money helps," said BSU soccer defender Payton McBride.
Enter Dan Landucci is the owner of local eatery Paddles Up Poke which has five locations in the Treasure Valley. He's employed several BSU student-athletes over the past few years, up to 13 at one point, and was able to see how hectic life was for them.
"How they had to balance school, sports, and work to get some kind of resume, otherwise you see some of these players graduating with no resume and just kind of getting into the real world and have nothing to really stand on," Landucci said. "Trying to get in there and help them with that and now they can profit on that too cause their schedules are insane."
Seeing that made Landucci step into action to help out his student-athlete employees regardless of the sport they played, including Payton Baratcart, a BSU soccer player and the first student-athlete hired by Landucci four years ago.
"It's really cool that a local place wanted to help local players like have that outlet and get noticed in that way, so I was real excited about it," said BSU soccer midfielder Payton Baratcart.
But he didn't stop there. All his student-athlete employees were given NIL deals that include some extra money for groceries as well as free food from Paddles Up.
"I definitely think that it's really helpful like as college athletes especially, it can be hard to find time to work enough to pay for tuition and for food and so being able to kind of capitalize on your own hard work and your own achievements as an athlete, to just get a little bit of help with paying for groceries or paying for food when it can hard to find healthy food has been really helpful for me," said Stephens.
"There's so many little expenses as a student-athlete and then not having to worry about paying for groceries every month is going to be a huge help," said McBride.
As for the athletes' side of the deal, aside from continuing to work at Paddles Up, it's nothing that should get in the way of their already busy schedules.
"Our side of the deal is pretty simple — yesterday we did a photo shoot so a lot of social media marketing things. I have fueled by Paddles Up in my Instagram bio so others can see that I'm affiliated with Paddles Up," said McBride.
Landucci says he has no plans to stop the NIL deals with his student-athlete employees, but does want to include more than just food and money by adding life skills and mentorships.
"I'm gonna learn the in's and out's of nutrition, kind of how it's all started on the entrepreneur side of it cause if I wanted to start my own thing, then I know how it worked cause he's built it up from the ground on his own so I think I will learn a lot through it and use it later in life," said Baratcart.
But for now, these student-athletes get to focus a little more on what's happening on the field rather than what they're going to eat when they get home.
"Certain seasons, they can't work so you just kind of have to cut them off and let them figure it out. Now they can still make money when they're schedule doesn't allow them to work," said Landucci.