It doesn’t take much scrolling through Andreea Dragoi’s Instagram to see why certain corners of the internet have nicknamed her “The Olivia Dunne of the Pool,” a nod to the LSU gymnast currently making millions off her name, image, and likeness (NIL) while still in college.
Although she hasn’t yet reached Dunne’s level of fame, Dragoi has become one of the most-followed NCAA swimmers on Instagram in spite of competing at a relatively low-profile program in San Jose State. The 20-year-old native of Romania is fresh off a runway appearance at New York Swim Week earlier this month and preparing for another one at New York Fashion Week next week.
But there’s Instagram, and then there’s reality: Dragoi, unlike Dunne, cannot profit off NIL while on U.S. soil due to F-1 visa guidelines. Making matters worse is the fact that she can’t even sign to a talent agency because of her status as an international student, meaning it’s entirely up to her to organize any deals out of the country.
“I’m doing it all on my own,” Dragoi said. “It made me learn a lot from the process and how to manage everything. Everyone thinks I have a team behind me at this point, and I’m like, ‘Nope.’”
The result is lost opportunities and added stress for Dragoi, one of about 14,000 foreigners in the NCAA without publicity rights. She says she has to turn down three or four brand deals each month due to federal immigration and tax laws.
Instead, Dragoi works 20 hours a week as a lifeguard at San Jose State during the school year to maintain her financial independence — on-campus jobs that benefit other students are permitted by F-1 visa guidelines — in addition to 20 hours of weekly training for the Spartans’ swimming and diving program.
“In my case, I’m financially independent and I have to get an on-campus job,” Dragoi said. “Everyone’s like, ‘Oh my god, she’s a lifeguard.’ But the thing is, I have no other choice. It’s the only job that I can do, being on campus, because of my visa. It’s hustle after hustle after hustle that would be made a lot easier if we could monetize our NIL.”
“It’s really frustrating,” she added. “I wish there would be another loophole or another new rule that would allow international student athletes to be able to earn from NIL deals. After all, we’re all athletes right? We all follow our dreams, we chase our goals, and we want to monetize our name as well.”
Dragoi isn’t the only college swimmer missing out on a potential six-figure payday. Among the five most-followed NCAA swimmers on Instagram, only Texas sophomore Lydia Jacoby is a U.S. citizen, and she already has signature swimsuits made by arena. The other four are international: SMU junior Luana Alonso (Paraguay), Arizona State junior Leon Marchand (France), Texas senior Anna Elendt (Germany), and Dragoi.
Most-Followed NCAA Swimmers on Instagram
- SMU junior Luana Alonso (PAR) – 204k
- Arizona State junior Leon Marchand (FRA) – 158k
- Texas sophomore Lydia Jacoby (USA) – 106k
- Texas senior Anna Elendt (GER) – 80.4k
- San Jose State junior Andreea Dragoi (ROM) – 76.3k
Dragoi is coming off multiple knee injuries last season, but the butterfly specialist is hoping to be healthy again this season and adding IM events back to her lineup. She’s hoping to save up enough money to fly out her mother from Romania to watch one of her meets this season.
“We have families in Europe and one flight is over $1,000 to go home,” Dragoi said. “Life here is so expensive.”
Connecticut senator Chris Murphy has advocated for a federal law opening the door for all college athletes to make NIL money, but his efforts have been unsuccessful thus far.
“There is something flat out wrong with an industry that makes billions of dollars a year while many of its athletes can’t afford to put food on the table or buy a plane ticket for their parents to see them perform,” Murphy said back in 2021. “At a minimum, all college athletes deserve the ability to use their own name, image, and likeness how they see fit, and that includes international athletes who shouldn’t need to worry about losing their visa status and ability to pursue higher education in this country to benefit as well.”