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Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee receiver Jalin Hyatt, who had 20 catches for 276 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman last season, could be among the Volunteers football players who benefit most from the ability to earn from their name, image and likeness.

Cameron Walker has only been Tennessee's deputy athletic director since January, but his plate this week went from full to crammed.

Walker is Danny White's point man for NIL, which stands for name, image and likeness — the groundbreaking change that came to college athletics on Thursday. Student-athletes are now permitted to make unlimited amounts of money, and it is Walker's job to help educate both Volunteers and Lady Vols on their newfound empowerment.

In a 30-minute Zoom call Friday, Walker fielded a variety of NIL-related questions.

Q: Did you consult with NCAA, SEC and state officials about the best plan for Tennessee?

A: "I think it's all of the above. We've sought a lot of counsel. They were well under way prior to me even getting here in January. They had a pretty solid plan in place, and I bet we've attacked this weekly if not daily since then. We've consulted with other schools, the SEC and the NCAA, and we've been involved with the state law that came out. We've had a lot of involvement with a lot of different entities.

"We're trying to peek around corners to see what's ahead, and the better we can anticipate it, the better off we are to put our student-athletes in position to where they can be empowered."

Q: Are these student-athletes going to be taxed on their NIL earnings?

A: "Unfortunately, we weren't able to persuade the IRS, so they will have to pay taxes on any income they have if they have an amount that's in a taxable bracket."

Q: Are you allowed to help them with their taxes?

A: "That's on their own. These are their own business entities, but they're ready for it. That's why we've really tried to focus our NIL program on education and making them aware of what these situations are and the consequences.

"Those who are serious about this can get a minor in it here. The university has been overwhelming in the way they've helped us, as has the Haslam School of Business. They can get tax help through a course."

Q: What are the most frequent questions from the athletes, and what are you telling them as they explore this new world?

A: "A lot of the questions are basic. 'Can I do this? Should I do this?' We're all getting used to something that on Monday was not allowed and is now permissible. Some of them are really looking long term, and I've been impressed with a lot of the questions that we get and the foresight they have as they look to build their brands.

"They're realizing that a decision they make now can further their brand or shorten it, and they're seeking advice on who would be good partners. We can't recommend certain partners, but we can educate them."

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Tennessee Athletics photo / Cameron Walker

Q: What is your biggest NIL concern or concerns?

A: "I'm incredibly optimistic about this, to be honest. I think this is a great opportunity for our student-athletes to receive some benefits that are needed for them and probably should have been happening. A few years ago, we found out that student-athletes were going to get a cost of attendance, and we thought that was the end, but we adapted and moved forward. I kind of feel that this is going to be the same way. Are there going to be some growing pains? Absolutely. Could there be some discord in locker rooms? I would be surprised if there wasn't.

"Ultimately, I think our student-athletes are incredibly bright, and a lot of them have a plan, and the ones making money off of this are because of something they've done that's exceptional, and not all of that will be based on the field. Some of them will be really good at building their brands off the field. I think they will surprise us in the way they are able to maximize this."

Q: There are players who could earn $20 gift cards or significantly bigger deals. When you think about the potential of Josh Dobbs a few years ago or Peyton Manning back in the day, how big of a financial deal are we talking about?

A: "It will be whatever the market demands, and I think that's probably the right spot to be in. There is really not going to be a limit or a cap that we can put on it. I do think we may see a little market fluctuation early on and that maybe things are slightly overvalued early on and will then come back, but that's how the market works. It will then hover within a certain range."

Q: Can a player receive $100,000 for signing an autograph or make $25,000 a speaking engagement? Are their limits to that?

A: "Right now, there is not, and we've got to ask if that's a fair market value. It has to be for something. You can't just give a player $25,000 now."

Q: Can Tennessee athletes use the UT logo if they seek permission?

A: "Yes, but it will be case by case. It not only depends on using the logo but how are you going to use the logo. The nuances are so varied that it's tough to make a general statement of whether you can use it or not. We have a contact and a process as far as a student-athlete seeking approval for that."

Q: Are there moral issues involved as far as these business agreements and an oversight on that front?

A: "There is a list of a few things. We can't have our student-athletes out there promoting gambling, so that's one example. In a broader sense, it's about advising them. Some choices now may restrict choices later. You may not want to get bottled in with a certain company, so you have to be smart.

"A lot in society today want the $20 now instead of the $2,000 later, and it's our job to advise them."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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