Maggie Bell: Reimagining the student athlete experience

18 minute read

Epsa 1:40

So actually, today on the podcast, we have a really special guest. Her name is Maggie bell. And she’s actually one of my friends from high school. So we’re doing a little throwback. And Maggie and I did journalism together in high school. And you know, we’ve both since then graduated college. But we’re super stoked to have Maggie on the podcast. Because she did her four years at Berkeley. She played soccer, he was on the Cal women’s soccer team. And she actually started a nonprofit called CACE, which is college athlete compliance inquiries. Honestly, super cool. This episode today, she talks all about her personal experiences, working with students who have a lot of inquiries that are just had been hard to navigate for student athletes on their own. And what she started is this nonprofit, for other student athletes to ask all these various questions that you never would have thought of to ask if you weren’t a student athlete.

Sydney 2:38  

And she does that all for free, which is really amazing. And providing a resource for student athletes that didn’t exist during her time at Berkeley. So we’re really excited to have her on the podcast today. And have you all hear about her experience just navigating that journey as a student athlete, what she’s been up to in Denmark, and playing professional soccer there, and what is in store for her nonprofit CACE?

Epsa  3:08  

Exactly. All of that. We welcome you, Maggie bell. Maggie. Welcome to the pod longtime now chat. So we’re super excited to have you. But before we get chatting about your nonprofit CACE, super excited to hear more about it. Could you just give us a little background on yourself your experiences at Berkeley and kind of just like what you’re up to now?

Maggie : 3:29  

Absolutely. I just graduated from Cal class of 2020 in the pandemic. I love that. Well, first I was in Tahoe working as a waitress for a little bit up there. just figuring out life like most of us 2020 grads were and then I moved to Denmark because I was a student athlete at Cal I played soccer there for four years Go Bears. And it was an OK experience. It wasn’t like the best College Athletic experience, which is kind of how CACE came to be. But more on that later. And now I am playing soccer professionally in Denmark. So I got here a month ago. We’re still definitely in lockdown. Like no restaurants are open, but it’s cool. I’m living in different countries, so I can’t complain.

Sydney 4:20  

So living abroad is a unique experience in itself. But besides playing soccer, what like what is your life look like in Denmark right now?

Epsa  4:32  

Yeah, like what Sydney said, I’m super curious. Like just like what you’re up to aside from soccer because like currently, like Personally, I just moved to San Francisco. So all I’m doing right now is just like bopping around my tiny little home and like trying to find ways to entertain myself.

Maggie 4:48  

So I’m also in a very tiny little home, which is awesome. One, okay, this is not that important, but a weird thing about Europe is that they call the fourth floor. This One floor. So like we’re on the fourth floor, but we’re on the fifth floor. So I have to walk up five flights of stairs every day to get to my little home. Oh my god.

Epsa  5:12  

Oh my god. That’s a real life Stairmaster you have in your home basically,

Maggie 5:16  

exactly. It’s built in. No, but so I have been definitely struggling to adjust to the time change. I sleep in like a lot. I play soccer every day, which is awesome. We have training at night. And then during the day, I typically work on CACE, like do some work for that. And then I also wor,  I work part time as a journalist. So I do that a little bit as well. Oh, my God always doing good journalism, as Grubagh would say

Sydney 5:53  

and so could you also touch a bit more about, like your personal experience playing soccer at Berkeley? I know, you mentioned briefly like, it wasn’t maybe the best experience. But like, from day one, when you started that journey at Berkeley, was it everything you expected it to be? was a completely different?

Epsa  6:12

Yeah. Yeah. So take us through the journey of it. 

Maggie 6:16

Both my parents went to Cal. So Cal was always a dream school for me. And I was fortunate enough to commit pretty young, I committed to play soccer there when I just turned 15 during the sophomore year of high school, so that was like, always, you know, my goal through high school soccer, I worked super hard, I actually graduated high school early to go attend. To get like a head start on soccer, basically felt like, you know, this is it, this is how I’m going to play on the national team, because that was also a goal of mine. And so I was really excited when I got there. And then it actually was not quite as great of an experience as I would have liked. But it was also very educational. And I learned a lot about myself through it. So I’m, like, very thankful for it. But um, college athletics is not what most people think it is, I feel like it’s very much so glamorized in the media. Athletes themselves want to, you know, make it seem like a really cool experience, because in a lot of ways, it is a cool experience, but it’s very tough. And, truthfully, there’s not a lot of resources for student athlete. So in the situations where a coach is, you know, not a good coach to his player, his or her program is poorly run, or you don’t have the resources you need to manage mental health or physical health. It can be pretty toxic in the way that you don’t have access to what you need. But you’re also in this odd position and that your school and your your future depends on playing your sport, whether that be for scholarship reasons, whether that be you know, like it soccer got me into Cal so obviously, in my situation, and I was also on scholarship, it was a big part of my experience as a student.

Epsa 8:20  

When you went in day one, like you had these plans, you said to like, play nationally, and you had this like, Alright, here’s my vision, here’s how it’s gonna play out. And then when you got there, and you kind of saw it not playing out the way you envision, like how did you start navigating that like what was going through your head?

Maggie 8:35  

Yeah, so I, I got there and I was really excited about soccer but soccer wasn’t going quite the way I would have hoped. And I’ve always been someone who likes to do a million things at once. So I was involved in a lot of different clubs. I was pursuing a journalism minor working as a reporter. I was part of like the student athlete leadership team. So I was trying to like distract myself find other things that I was passionate about. But I also considered transferring as many people do in college. I ultimately decided not to because I didn’t want to restart at a new school, I felt like I had already made a lot of friends, you know, kind of found my, my people at Cal and it’s scary, you know, to move to a new school. So I also wasn’t sure what the program athletically would be like at a different school. I wasn’t sure, scholarship wise if I would be getting any scholarship so I ultimately decided to stick it out after my sophomore year. And then I also got involved in a bunch of other things. I joined the sorority I started working at this awesome summer camp called Lair of the the bear. I just kind of found ways to make soccer not my entire life because growing up it definitely had been so I wanted to do kind of made myself as cliche as it sounds like a whole person. And I just found different passions. So that was my way of navigating it. I know it doesn’t work for everyone, but I just felt like I had to find a way to get through it.

Sydney  10:15  

It sounds like your experience as a student athlete was also what really inspired you to start college athlete compliance and queries or otherwise known as CACE your nonprofit. Could you walk us through that journey of starting this organization and what your goal was? behind creating it?

Unknown Speaker  10:38  

Yeah, so like I said, it was considering transferring. And I think a lot of people who aren’t involved in the college athletics world don’t realize like how many different rules and regulations there are when you’re an athlete. So like, the NCAA has a lot of different procedures, you have to follow. So you have to if you want to transfer, you have to notify your coach that in writing, they have to basically accept it and then tell you you’re allowed to transfer and if they don’t, then you have to go to a trial to figure out if they’re not releasing you what the rules are. And there’s just a lot of different steps that I wasn’t aware of. So I would always go to my older brother, like many people do when they have questions, and ask him because he’s a lawyer. And my brother would provide answers to me that a lot of people I would tell my friends about, like, Oh, yeah, I asked my brother about XYZ. So by the end of my four years, I had an array of different student athletes who would come to me when they had similar questions about transferring about, you know, if they think they might have broken a rule, or whatever, for compliance reasons, instead of wanting to go and, you know, tell their coach and then ask what their punishment is, people will be like, hey, Maggie, you know, I heard you had to deal with X, Y, and Z, like, do you have any advice for me? So that was kind of the birth of the idea of CACE And then my brother and I were on a ski trip together one year, stuck in horrendous traffic. And we started planning out this idea, and we’re like, Okay, this needs to exist, like there’s no organization for student athletes to turn to when they have questions. It’s all a very informal network. And so we decided to form CACE and then we something that kind of came along the way was, I wanted to make it something that student athletes ought to pay for, because they don’t get paid for the work they do. Even if you’re on scholarship, like you’re not in a position where you have extra cash laying around to throw at a counselor, you know, my brother, like as lawyers that used to, you know, knowing what legal fees are, and we’re like, okay, student athletes definitely can’t pay that. Yeah. And also, they shouldn’t have to, like they should have the ability to do you know, be a student athlete and know their rights without being broke. I

Epsa 3:03  

totally, totally agree. Well, I’m really glad you did have your brother to go to for support for all those questions, especially because they definitely seem like difficult questions to answer on your own for anyone. Really glad you guys are trying to make this service or you guys are making the service free. But I have so many other questions to one, I’m absolutely not a student athlete. I hated running the mile and PE like I dreaded it. I tried to make up any excuse. I was like, Please don’t make me do this. So like, with me being that way. And like a lot of people, like I think a lot of people view student athletes as Oh, you do have all these resources. You can register for classes early, you have XYZ net, but you have like a whole nother network. Like to me. I always felt like student athletes and like students were in different subgroups at school. So it’s really interesting hearing, like, even when you were like struggling with this huge part of your college identity, you felt like lost in a sense. So my question to you is like, aside from your like, okay, when people would go to you for other questions, what were like barriers or other difficulties, like themes or barriers and difficulties that you overcame? And that you also like, tried to urge other student athletes to like, talk about to voice their concerns?

Maggie 14:20  

Yeah, I think that one thing that’s kind of common for everyone is that you want to portray yourself as self sufficient and you don’t want to come off as someone who is in need of help. For a variety of reasons, pride being one of them, but also, as a student athlete, like you, you want your coaches and everyone around you to think that you have it together so you get playing time. So they believe in you as a person so there’s it’s more than just as a person wanting to appear like you have your shit together. Total. So I think that a lot of the time deters people from asking questions about rights are, they don’t want to seem like they don’t know. Also, as a student athlete, I think it’s pretty common to feel like you have a little bit of a target on your back. Because, you know, there’s this stigma that the only reason you’re at your school is because you got in for your athletic ability. And so you don’t want to come off as that dumb jock for lack of a better cliche. And so you don’t ask questions. And you, you are fed this narrative that you’re given everything you need, and that you’re lucky to be there. So I think it’s common that people accept that. And if something doesn’t go their way, they say, okay, that’s just part of the experience, you know, or they think that what’s happening to them is normal. And that’s called athletics is hard, is what people always say like, you know, it’s a really hard process. But it’s when you actually dive into it. It’s like, yes, it should be hard. But there are certain things that shouldn’t be happening to anyone, regardless of being a student athlete or not. So I think that was something I found that, like we a lot of things were normalized in college athletics, at least in my experience. Yeah. So something that was common for a lot of different student athletes is that you were part of a system, as opposed to being an individual person, and the whole system didn’t necessarily have your best interests at heart. So whether that be like this treatment from a coach, whether that be feeling like your trainers aren’t giving you adequate attention when you have an injury, because you’re not a starter, but you’re someone who, you know, there’s examples on my team, at least of girls who were not starters who were told that maybe they were complaining too much about an injury and didn’t treat it and then therefore had lasting impacts from it, like, and a couple of them are forced to medically retire, like high stress fractures over and over again. And those just weren’t adequately addressed. Because our trainer thought that they were just being dramatic. And especially, I feel like that’s a very concrete example, to have your health at risk and not be having it taken care of. And again, as a student athlete, you don’t want to show weakness. So you, you don’t say anything about it. And then these girls, you know, leave, leave the team and are going to have lifelong health issues from it.

Epsa 17:39  

Totally. Oh my gosh,


yeah, that expectation for like, the upkeep of that, that image that like you have everything under control. And then to have like, when you actually voiced those concerns, especially about an injury and to have somebody come back and say like, You’re being too dramatic about it just sounds like it would be so much not only like physical strain, but just emotionally to

Epsa 8:07  

Yeah, and I think what how you explained it was really, it was a really like eye opener, like for me at least because I feel like now like I I’m understanding it more because like what you said, like you have these expectations to uphold for your coach and all that stuff. But also like, you’re also kind of a face of the school. So obviously you want to like put your best self out there always and like habit together out of school, like how to like and your parents went there like you just have so much like history there. So I can only imagine like, how not just you But like all student athletes like feel that way too.

Maggie 18:40  

Yeah. And I also think like all all college students feel that way. And yeah, heart You know, like you come home from your first semester during Christmas break. And all of your parents friends ask you don’t you love it? So yeah, I love it. Even if you’re miserable, you know? Yeah. That’s kind of a shared experience a lot of people have. It’s just in a slightly different lens. Yeah, it’s your athletes.

Epsa  19:09  

No, totally. And it’s something people don’t normalize, or don’t talk about. I think, honestly, I think we’ve all talked about this, but like, in quarantine, and because we’ve all had a lot of time to ourselves. I feel like these conversations and being so open about when we were struggling, has been a lot more like has been talked about more, which is nice. Versus like back in 2016. I was like, my life is perfect. It’s exactly how my Instagram shows that out to me. Thank you for coming.

Maggie 19:35  

Yeah, no, I definitely think that’s again, like what I was saying about it being like a glamorized ideal you want to show off? I think everyone is kind of seeing that a little bit more. Yeah, no, exactly. Exactly.

Sydney 19:52  

Yeah. And along that vein, that one of our listener questions was actually in regards to This this question and this topic is from Vasu Gupta. So recently, I guess it was in January, the NCAA Council was delaying a vote on the name image and likeness legislation. And this would have allowed student athletes to receive compensation or like endorsement money for their name, image and likeness, right? What does this mean for student athletes? And like, Why is it such an important fight that like this is brought to the table,

Maggie  20:33  

At CACE specifically, we’re kind of working from the position that the NCAA is going to do with the NCAA is going to do and it’s not our mission to advocate them to do better, obviously, we would love that. But our sole goal is helping student athletes get through what the current situation is. So as much as it would be awesome that students could get paid for the way the NCAA uses their image, or, you know, potential endorsements. That’s not what we do. We are more interested in helping student athletes navigate the rules that are frustrating. But from a personal view, I do I there’s kind of, it’s a two sided issue, because from one standpoint, you look at someone who, for example, Missy Franklin, who went to college, she was an amazing Olympic swimmer did super well in the Olympics one year and then didn’t take any endorsement money would have made a lot of money, but wanted to keep her amateur status, so she could keep swimming a towel, did that and then the next Olympics didn’t have a great Olympics. I think that’s something that’s like a very clear situation where it’s frustrating to see all the money that she could have made or kept for herself, not given to her just so she could compete in college. I think that’s pretty frustrating to watch. But then also, as someone who played a non revenue sport, it’s not a simple mathematical calculation, because the revenue sports would be the ones to continue to exist. I think. Truthfully, we wouldn’t see a lot of non revenue sports sports that might not be popular as people don’t go to those would cease to exist, because right now, the way the rules are set up is that revenue sports have to give their money to non revenue sports. So Oh, US non revenue sports would actually suffer because all the endorsement money again would go to people who are involved in revenue sports, and then from what I understand, it would probably lead to the elimination of a lot more sports. Yeah, so that’s good but there’s always like a flip side. Right? Right.

Epsa 23:12  

Cuz I never thought about it. Like, see, like, maybe I’m learning so much. Truthfully, policy. It’s coming out. Yeah, wait. So I want to go back a little bit more to CACE. So you, basically a lot of what you’re doing is just providing advice to college athletes in situations similar to you. So I know we touched on a few topics. But could you explain like, I know, on your website, great website, by the way, I love love that. You’ve helped over 50 student athletes. Can you give us a theme of like the topics you’ve helped them with? Like, are they all from Berkeley? Like, how are you? How are you getting these student athletes like, wow.

Maggie 23:55  

So some of them have been from Berkeley, but most of them are not actually. The process works. My brother and I go in by hand and cross check student athlete rosters with the school databases to get their emails and then we reach out to them by school. Wow. Yeah, so we’ve reached out to over I don’t know the numbers anymore. I think it’s somewhere close to over 10,000 student athletes,


Really? You put in the work, you put a man to help. Outreach ratios ratio.It happens, trust me, me and Sydney for the podcast. We dm like a bunch of people on LinkedIn. Hey, we’d love to have you on the pod like we would one response out of like 100. So it happens. It happens. It happens. 

Maggie 24:46  

Yeah. Cold outreach is hard. It’s hard. Yeah. Yeah. It’s basically cold calling, you know, yeah. Yeah. Just draft up a little email and send it to them and say you know, like, in case You’re suffering and want some help. Yeah, no. So it’s, it’s getting better though. Because as we started to, like, receive more recognition, at first, it was just this random person emailing them, you know, from a gmail email, like who are you. But now that we have our nonprofit status, and we have helped, you know, over 50 people, I feel like that gives us a little bit more legitimacy. And that, like, we know what we’re doing, we’re doing it for good. We’re not just some scam, you literally don’t have to pay any money. So. But yeah, so typically, people have come to us for like transfer advice, if they want to know, like, what their options are, what the process looks like. And each case, you know, is gonna have different stipulations. Some people are not from this country, some people have scholarships to think about, others have to think about how many years of eligibility if they want to be a graduate student, all those different details that change the way their transfer process works. So essentially, they send us either by email, or through our website, information about what they want to do, kind of what their current situation is. And then my brother and I go through and individually, tailor advice to them. We talk through different scenarios, I bring in the perspective of having done a student athlete and understanding what that looks like. And then He is a licensed attorney. So he and he worked in an NCAA compliance office. So together, we kind of have the bases covered in that sense. So yeah, we have transfer advice, people asking about their amateur status, obviously, COVID has affected everyone. So it affects your athletes as well. And then, you know, coaching relationship issues, if people feel like their coaches are breaking rules by making them train too many hours, or, you know, making threats that don’t seem to fall within just general coaching discipline, they could bring them to us, and we give them advice. And then we also offer the service to go to their compliance department and or the NCAA on their behalf, so that they can keep their full anonymity because that is such a big concern. When you’re a student athlete, you don’t want to tell people you are going to come back to bite you. Right? Right.

Epsa 27:33  

Which is so sad, because like, you just want help you just want like guidance. Is there so like, right now? Is it just you and your brother with this? Like, are there? Do you have any other like people in your position that have like graduated, that are also like providing insight and support? Or is it just like you and your brother, you and Connor.

Maggie  27:52  

So we actually just added a new member today, onboarding officially live. And she Her name is Elena McKay. Elena is awesome. She was a on the crew team at Columbia. And she’s currently studying Student Health and Wellness advocacy at UCSF in a masters program. Yeah, so she, we’re really excited to have her join the team, because she’s such a, you know, it’s a very qualified person and another student athlete who has experienced with that, but also, from the point of student athlete health and wellness advocacy, I think is really important to have that perspective, because she is just someone we don’t have on our team yet.

Sydney  28:43  

And so you’ve already helped you said around like 50 student athletes, and how long has CACE been around like, when did you start the organization again?

Maggie 28:54  

So we started it last summer. So end of June, early July,

Sydney 28:59  

so not not even a year and you’ve already helped, like 50, which I feel like is a pretty good like, you have to start somewhere. That’s really great. And what are, I guess, like future plans? Like where would you like to see CACE go and like what comes of this nonprofit?

Maggie 29:17  

I think we’re still kind of starting to understand how big we can grow and still be effective and the way we help people. And ideally, we would be nationally recognized and you know, if a student athlete is struggling out of school, hopefully an older teammate will tell them, Hey, I know this great resource CACE, you should reach out to them and they can give you good advice. So I think we’d love to be nationally known and just seen as like an ally to student athletes. And that’s my goal. Kind of lofty, but you know, got to start somewhere. And I’d love to make it something where we bring on More advisors, that Connor and I can focus on making CACE, keeping CACE affordable, but also making it something that every student athlete can access,

Epsa 30:16  

though since like working on it since July, from just like a personal note, Maggie, like, what has been the most fulfilling part about starting CACE, working with your brother like helping these students? Like what do you has been like, oh, wow, like this makes my heart warm.

Maggie 30:32  

I just love to being able to give back to a community that I was a part of, and also not, not in a selfish way. But it is definitely, you know, therapeutic to, to hear other people’s not only to hear other people’s struggles, but also to be able to give them some help. In those situations after struggling so much in my college experience and feeling helpless, and like I was alone, it’s just nice to have people come to us, and then they send us you know, emails being like, thank you so much. This is so helpful. Now I know what I’m going to do. And that, to me, warms my heart because it’s something I would have loved to have existed and you just feel like you get to be an older sibling to them. Yeah. To me, it’s like, oh girl i’ve been there & then they’re like, Oh, my God.

Sydney 31:27  

And to think that that CACE is like, basically the first of its kind from what you were saying, like, these resources didn’t exist. And like, yeah, or work, you know, like, obviously, like you were saying to legal advice is insanely expensive. And like a college student, which was like a student athlete shouldn’t be expected to pay that. So I just think it’s, it’s awesome that like you are using, like your experience, like having been a student athlete, and now pursuing soccer professionally, like giving back and really making CACE like the first nonprofit of its kind, because it does sound like there’s so many challenges that, like student athletes have to navigate. And I can’t even imagine like, not having anybody to turn to or like an older sibling that you can lean on.

Sydney/Epsa 32:17  

So the fact that you’re providing that resource is awesome. It’s very host, it’s very full circle, actually. So that’s cool.

Sydney 32:27  

As a society, how can schools start to reimagine, creating a safe space? for student athletes to ask questions without having this fear of retribution or scholarship revoked? What are the first steps like creating that safespace for student athletes? 

Maggie 32:44  

I think that schools need to be more accountable with their employees, especially the ones that have control over so much of student athletes’ lives. So coaches, clients, departments, and trainers, you know, make sure that these people have the student athletes best interests at heart and are different people that you can go to because college is so hard for everyone. And then athletics on top of it is also, you know, an extra challenge. So just making sure that those in power in the student athlete community are people that student athletes can go to and feel like they can speak to and not hear retribution.