‘The Olivia Dunne of the Pool’ Can’t Profit Off Her NIL

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

  1. SMU junior Luana Alonso (PAR) – 204k
  2. Arizona State junior Leon Marchand (FRA) – 158k
  3. Texas sophomore Lydia Jacoby (USA) – 106k
  4. Texas senior Anna Elendt (GER) – 80.4k
  5. 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.”

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2 months ago

If “US” athletes can make “NIL” money, then so should she!!! Just because she not “American” she’s not allowed?? What happened to land of opportunity?? Sounds more like she being oppressed!!! Remember her making money HERE (US) she’s bringing revenue HERE!!! She profits & supports herself, & companies profit as well!!

Tanish Mathew
2 months ago

Vedaant Madhavan has 451K and swims at VT. I think he should be mentioned on this list

2 months ago

Oh no, she can’t make millions just because she was born attractive!! What is the world coming to!

Reply to  Larry
2 months ago

This is a ridiculous comment

NJ Cav
2 months ago

The bottom line is that this is a visa issue, not an NIL issue. All international students, athletes and non-athletes alike, are subject to the same work limitations while in the United States on a student visa. Work visas exist too and you can attend school while on them, but those are typically for specialty jobs (think high tech) or for temporary jobs where US workers do not want to do them. I don’t believe any work visa will let someone into the United States to work as a social media influencer.

Changing the rules for athletes likely means changing the rules for all students. I doubt it is politically viable. It isn’t as if all is bad for them.… Read more »

Mike Cox
2 months ago

I agree she should be able to profit off her NIL the university is profiting off her and she is here legally. She did not come here illegally and expecting the US to pay for everything. So good for her

2 months ago

I’m not American but didn’t every college athlete have to pay their way without NIL before this? And every other international student has to earn legitimate income within the laws. Why should student athletes be above the laws and get to earn extra because they are athletes.

Eddie Rowe
Reply to  Aussie
2 months ago

You make two points. The first one is silly. We can learn to evolve and make the system better. Just like 90K-yards-a-week-and-loving-it is no longer the best way for the most athletes. Another way to spin your statement would be that students who AREN’T athletes are free to make whatever money they want from whatever pursuit they have if they can gain notoriety. Athletes were treated lesser until NIL was allowed.

Your second point could easily be addressed with changes to visa laws for all international students. US Immigration is goofy at best.

Joshua Liendo-Edwards-Smith
3 months ago

I’m surprised people in the comments are really against her.

She could be raking in money but instead she isn’t allowed to while the majority of other NCAA athletes can. Regardless of how fair you think it is, surely you can understand from her perspective why she isn’t happy about it?

Citizen for Fairness
Reply to  Joshua Liendo-Edwards-Smith
2 months ago

US citizenship should mean something. There should be these restrictions on foreign students. They take up a seat in the classroom, and a place on the college sports teams, thus keeping other eligible US student athletes from participating. Our US students studying abroad face the same or similar restrictions.

Reply to  Citizen for Fairness
2 months ago

International students studying abroad in Germany are allowed to work up to 120 full days or 240 half days.

There are somewhere around 10,000 Americans studying in Germany. For free – there’s just a small administrative fee per semester.

Meanwhile, international students pay even more to study in the US than Americans do. That’s why universities are so keen to recruit them.

Reply to  Braden Keith
2 months ago

For international students on F-1, US government prints a line on the social security card “not allowed to work without authorization” (something like that), the U.S. government makes sure foreign students cannot work freely since every work places need either US passports or social security cards.

For public university, international students pays the private college price.

These rules exist for years for international students

3 months ago

“The Olivia dunne of… *Insert sport*” phrase can be retired. Along with snowpocalypse, snowmageddon, bomb cyclone, spygate, deflate gate, anything-gate, and bidenomics.

Reply to  Leavingonthetop
3 months ago

You forgot “walk-off” — literally everything in now all sports is a walk-off if the announcers are trying to impress us.

Free Thinker
Reply to  justanopinion
2 months ago

well, if it was a pivotal event that ended the game, they are just borrowing a phrase from baseball. whats so bad about that?

Eddie Rowe
Reply to  Free Thinker
2 months ago

Because Baseball is pretty much the only sport where you walk off the field after scoring. Sometimes it’s fun to adapt language from one sport to another. Sometimes it’s silly.

Free Thinker
Reply to  Eddie Rowe
2 months ago

A walk-off home run is referring to a home run that ends the game and both teams walk off the field. It’s not just about scoring. So really it translates quite well to any sport situation where a point ends the game.

About Riley Overend

Riley is an associate editor interested in the stories taking place outside of the pool just as much as the drama between the lane lines. A 2019 graduate of Boston College, he arrived at SwimSwam in April of 2022 after three years as a sports reporter and sports editor at newspapers …

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