Caitlin Clark, Zia Cooke headline $1 million NIL initiative targeting inequities for women college athletes

Iowa's Caitlin Clark and South Carolina's Zia Cooke are headline names for a new initiative by H&R Block called "A Fair Shot," which will provide $1 million in sponsorships and support for women college athletes, it was announced Tuesday.

The program seeks to address inequities for women who are working to capitalize on name, image and likeness opportunities. The company said it is also providing tax preparation services to help sponsored athletes manage tax decisions from NIL income.

Clark, a sophomore guard, was named the Big Ten women's basketball player of the year Tuesday. Cooke, a junior guard, is a three-year starter for the Gamecocks, who have been ranked No. 1 all season.

According to figures provided by the company, 67.4 percent of the compensation from NIL deals is going to men, compared to 32.6 for women.

"When we saw the disparity already growing in college NIL sponsorships, we knew we had to help female college athletes get a fair shot," Jeff Jones, president and CEO of H&R Block, said in a statement. "This commitment draws from our purpose to provide help and inspire confidence in our clients and communities everywhere. When we invest in female college athletes, we are helping to create a positive impact in society that's good for all of us."

Clark told ESPN that she and other college athletes are in the early stages of figuring out the best opportunities allowed by the new NIL rules, which went into effect July 1, and that this sponsorship was a big one for her. Clark is in the business school at Iowa and said there are more financial decisions for college athletes to weigh now.

"I think that's what H&R Block's goal is: To help student-athletes," Clark said. "This isn't something college athletes have really had to deal with before at all because NIL has only been around a short time. And it is taxable money, so they're just trying to guide us along that process.

"They approached me with their campaign and what they were looking to do, and it was an easy yes for me to be a part of it. The inequities are something that female athletes have been dealing with a long time, and over the past year it was brought to light even more with the situation with the weight room at the NCAA tournament and things like that."

The differences in amenities for participants at the NCAA men's tournament in Indianapolis and the women's tournament in San Antonio in 2021 got national attention, and prompted the NCAA to commission gender-equity reports on all of its championships.

"I think that impacted us a lot," Clark said of the exposed inequities. "It is something I'm super passionate about, just making that playing field more even for all of us."

Cooke added that NIL opportunities have changed the way that student-athletes are thinking about themselves and their futures.

"We are making history being the first student-athletes to navigate going to school, practice and now NIL deals," Cooke told ESPN. "Athletes need to start thinking about finances and NIL when they think about playing sports in college. Something that H&R Block has taught me is that we also need to start thinking of ourselves like small businesses."