Mitch Barnhart

Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Questions are flying about how college athletes will cash in on the opportunities certain to percolate as the name/image/likeness world opens across the landscape.

University of Kentucky Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart took a string of questions Friday during a 30-minute media session. The questions were heavy on hypotheticals. The answers were light on specifics.

Instead of using his imagination to suggest where this road might lead, Barnhart flexed his administrative chops and asked everybody to take a deep breathe. He sounded like a guy having a difficult time letting go of 2002, concerned that some of UK’s athletes will have direct access to money the athletic department has always controlled.

Kentucky is one of college basketball’s leading brands. Will the program take advantage of NIL in recruiting?

Barnhart said that he hoped that relationships remained more important than the chance to make money.

Will Kentucky have veto rights on proposals presented by players?

No answer on that one.

Does Barnhart envision athletes cutting deals for fancy automobiles, a scenario that University of Louisville Athletic Director Vince Tyra discussed this week?

Barnhart did not say “Yes.” He also did not say “No.”

How will the process play out? Barnhart said his department was still working through that, trying to determine if it was a job for the school’s NCAA compliance experts.

As college athletics accelerated toward the day when players will be allowed to monetize their brands, readers, friends and colleagues have tossed out a string of questions.

How much money will players actually be able to make? Who will provide the opportunities? After making a game-winning shot, could a player race to the locker room, grab his phone and put his sneakers, jersey, wrist bands and head band for sale? How about teaming with a T-shirt company and marketing their brand? Who will be the most marketable players?

But the one question everybody asks remains: How much money can players expect to make?

Barnhart was not ready — or willing — to answer those questions.

“There are a lot of hypotheticals,” he said. “We’re in the early stages of putting pieces together ... we’re gently beginning to walk the journey … we don’t want to rush into mistakes.”

Stay tuned. The market will determine that. This will be a real-life MBA level class in marketing, manufacturing and public relations.

And negotiating.

Expect a tug-of-way between management (the schools and administrators) and labor (players) over what will be allowed and what won’t be allowed.

Barnhart’s primary talking points Friday were calls not to move too fast and that the focus should not be on how much money individual players can make.

I understand his thinking. I endorse some of it. Barnhart has done a superb job at UK, building successful programs, generating revenue and handling challenges with facilities. But here is the problem: Slow-playing this is precisely the kind of thinking that has put schools and the NCAA in this position.

Athletes are weary of being told not to move too fast. They’re ready to take advantage of their marketability.

The most marketable athletes are planning to be on campus for nine month or less. They’ll figure out the details later.

They see what everybody sees: coaches getting paid being paid for camps, product endorsements, speaking engagements, media responsibilities and other items. They see how former players have been able to cash in on their fame with autographs or public appearances.

Go to Cameo.com, a web site that connects athletes and other celebrities to fans. Your favorite basketball player will record a video or audio recording for you if you’re willing to meet their price.

B.J. Boston wants $30. Olivier Sarr believes he is worth $50. Benny Snell fetches $120. It’s $300 for Bam Adebayo. And the market has determined that UK head basketball coach John Calipari will receive at least $399.

Those types of transactions should be simple. But it’s easy to imagine where this thing will quickly get muddy.

Kentucky is one of Nike’s signature college properties. What happens if the next great Kentucky one-and-done wants sell his T-shirt with Adidas or Under Armour.

Calipari deals for all of his weekly radio and television responsibilities. Keion Brooks is Kentucky’s top returning veteran players and a guy who represents the school well in front of the cameras. Can Brooks (or any UK athlete) cut a deal for exclusive radio or TV appearances?

What about endorsing a product that is a competitor to a product that has a deal with Kentucky athletics?

Those are merely a few tricky warm-up questions. As Barnhart said, these are only the opening steps on the journey.

Buckle up. We’re going places we’ve never seen. Like everybody else, Barnhart will have to make adjustments.

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