As a Columbus, Ohio native, Sarah Morbitzer has been a Buckeye fan since day one. Walking on to the Ohio State Volleyball team was a dream come true. However, as a walk-on, Morbitzer has had to finically support herself throughout her college career. Only 57% of Division I student-athletes receive athletic financial aid, and it isn’t a full scholarship for most.
As a sophomore with 2,700 followers on Instagram, Morbitzer didn’t think much when NIL passed on July 1 until members of the Opendorse team presented to her team on campus.
“I didn’t think I would benefit at first at all. I don’t have a big name in college athletics or college volleyball,” Morbitzer said. “It wasn’t until we met with Opendorse and there was one slide about training camps and running private sessions.
I was like, ‘Wait, I definitely can benefit from that. I can do that.’ Since I did grow up in Columbus, I do have a name around here and relationships with a lot of coaches and younger players. I just use that to my benefit. Luckily my mother was my high school coach, so I use my old high school gym and I don’t have to pay a court fee. It’s been really great and honestly unexpected.”
Organizing and Hosting a Camp
Since student-athlete camps are new, Morbitzer had to start from scratch. She has learned a lot from the process. After running multiple camps and training sessions, she’s improved the process each time.
For promotion, she creates a flyer with information about her, her qualifications, and event information such as day, time, and location. She sends the flyer to high school coaches in the Columbus area. She posts about it on her social media channels and uses a third-party platform, SignUpGenius, where participants can register. Most of her sessions have 15-20 kids.
“That was really nice because I got to see who coming, their grade, their skill level, which helped a ton because an elite player, that’s a sophomore is a lot different than a sixth grader,” she explained. “Just knowing how to plan for a session.”
Morbitzer hosted her first sessions in July, shortly after NIL passed. She ran seven one-hour sessions and opened it up to anyone to participate in. She went on to host more sessions with her teammate, Sydney Taylor, who’s also from Columbus.
Taking learnings from her first camp, Morbitzer ran her summer break event differently.
“We ran three sessions each day and we divided it up into skill levels. We had advance and skill development sessions, so definitely learned throughout that first week of how I should do things and then carried it over to the next time.”
Adding a teammate also created a new dimension. Morbitzer noted, “It was a lot more fun and a little less awkward, too, because I was the only one talking in the summertime and having Sydney was amazing and perfect. Then we also just use a lot of the same ideas and drills that we use at Ohio State. So having someone to demo that drill as I’m talking was super helpful, or even just saying something to another girl while I’m talking to someone else.”
Over time, Mortbitzer has also adjusted the rate for her sessions as there has been an increase in demand.
“Last summer, I put it at $25 an hour and people were coming to me saying, ‘This needs to be higher. You play at Ohio State, this needs to be a higher cost,’” she said. “I was really glad they were honest with me. I did not have any expectations, so was happy to hear this.
Then when I teamed up with Sydney, we raised it to $40, which was $20 each, but still it’s a higher cost for an individual athlete. Then, me and Emily have it at $50.”
Most recently she hosted a skills-focused session with her teammate, Emily Landot, and plans to run more this summer, as well as potentially run private lessons.
For Morbitzer, giving back to her local community is one of the biggest joys.
“Just being able to give back to a 12- or 13-year-old absolutely makes my day because I started there and I used to idolize the players at Ohio State,” she said. “Now I’m that role model for younger kids. It blows my mind every day, honestly.”
Advice to Other Student-Athletes
When people think of NIL, most immediately think of social media deals, but there are many offline NIL opportunities.
“It’s an unexpected route from an NIL perspective,” Morbitzer admitted. “I don’t think a lot of people even think about doing private lessons. It’s more, ‘What brand deal can I get? What can I post on my social media?’
But, someone like me in my position, I am a walk-on and I don’t have a huge name, so I’m not going to get a brand deal that’s offering me $1,000. That’s where I was at and I’m like, ‘Okay, well, how else can I benefit from this?’ So even if you don’t have that big name, you can still benefit in this space.”
Having a supportive athletic department that helps provide NIL resources can play a big role too. Education is key.
“I’ve learned so much from Opendorse and from Ohio State,” she said. “That meeting last summer was huge for me and it was an eye-opener, listening just to the presentation from Opendorse. And then on the Ohio State side, it’s been big that they want us to succeed in this space, and it’s not all about money for them. It’s truly about us and about our name, our image, and likeness. That just means a lot to the athletes here.”
As a walk-on, Morbitzer has to pay for tuition, room, and board out of pocket and leans on her parents for support. She’s beginning to become financially independent, thanks to NIL.
“My parents have to pay for tuition, room and board, so NIL has helped me earn some spending money,” she explained. “I get to pay for my own groceries once in a while. It’s nice to know that it’s your money that you’re spending.
“Having some spending money has been huge for me. Then, I want to go to med school after undergrad. I think in the future, I’ll continue this throughout that even when I’m busy with that, but still getting some money off on the side.”
Even though Morbitzer’s mom was her volleyball coach, that career path never crossed her mind until NIL. The possibilities are intriguing.
“I never really thought about coaching until this era of NIL. I’ve always had my mindset on med school and what I want to do in that space. But I’ve joked with my mom, ‘Hey, if I take over our high school program, would you be my assistant?’”