Photo courtesy of SMU athletics

On Thursday, SMU linebacker Jimmy Phillips Jr. made history.

Phillips is the first college athlete to have ever completely executed an NIL deal.

“For me it’s an honor to say I was the first collegiate athlete ever to legally sign autographs and do it on Instagram Live,” he said.

We were able to ask Phillips about the historic event via Twitter direct messages, as well as pull quotes from the Instagram Live where it happened. To watch Phillips make history, check out the Instagram Live link to the video here.

A lot has been made of some superstar deals in the infancy of the NIL era. But it was a linebacker with 34 career tackles in 34 career games at a Group of 5 school that officially cashed in first.

The Event

At 12:01 a.m. on July 1, Phillips signed digital autographs through Fangage’s digital autograph platform. It feels pretty fitting that an SMU player was the first to cash in on the new NIL regulations — or lack thereof.

The linebacker from Mesquite, Tex. was a part of a virtual event. The event showcased Fangage’s new platform.

Fans were able to upload their own personal photos for Phillips to sign on his iPad while watching on Instagram Live.

As for who received that historic first autograph, it’s former SMU football player and current Fangage CEO, Josh Bryant.

Phillips was asked how fitting he found it that someone from SMU was the first to capitalize on NIL.

“God’s plan,” Phillips said.

At the beginning, there was a moment of realization, of just how momentous this was.

“I sat in my chair [in] disbelief,” Phillips said. “Like, this really is happening.”

In becoming the first to capitalize on the new legislation, Phillips didn’t care to do anything extravagant.

“I just had to understand the new ruling and kept it simple,” he said.

That really seems to be the key with the floodgates open. It’s great to see that Phillips seemingly took the time to make sure he knew what the situation was.

The Future

Despite describing it as “a long time coming,” Phillips said he “wasn’t expecting to see it while I’m in college..it was very surprising. I was very happy myself, but I was really happy for the future athletes that will be coming to college and actually experience this.”

That consideration for future athletes is something that is likely to play a big factor in recruiting.

Teams will be looking to gain a leg up by helping their athletes grow their personal brands. Plenty of athletes will get paid, and, sure, performance will be a big factor in how much they get paid.

But being able to have a social brand will help more than anything. The smartest programs are the ones that are going to help with that.

For example, SMU football might have foreseen this shift prior to the 2020 season. They partnered with a brand expert to come in to help with brand management, as well as create a logo for each player.


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Now, at the end of any SMU football highlight clip, their brand flashes. Some athletes have even taken to using that brand as their profile picture across social platforms.

Phillips has his as his Twitter header:

Image

One concern that many NIL detractors have voiced, is that it will only benefit a handful of athletes. The rest, they say, will miss out.

Phillips being the first to cash in might not completely destroy that theory, but it at least puts a dent in it. He also disagreed with those detractors.

“I think whoever can be the most creative, unique, and be able to express themselves will be able to use the new rule as an advantage and make bucks,” he said.

Readers may remember Phillips being included in our list of potential SMU breakout defenders for 2021.

It will certainly be interesting to see if he does have a breakout season, and how that might impact the demand for future NIL deals. When asked what his plans are for himself and what’s next in terms of NIL, he said he’s “open to all business!”

You can find Phillips on Twitter: @Jimmydagreaaat or on Instagram: @jimmydagreaaat