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A new vision: Omaha doctor offering free LASIK to all Husker student-athletes

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OMAHA -- Every Nebraska student-athlete has a new standing offer – free LASIK.

Dr. Lance Kugler never would have thought a year ago that such an idea could become reality. The refractive surgeon whose Omaha-based practice provides the visual corrective procedure has been a sponsor of the NU athletic department. Often, though, he found it difficult to physically help or even assess the Huskers because of strict NCAA regulations.

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The exploding realm of name, image and likeness is changing all that. Kugler – a lifelong Nebraska fan – doesn’t have the funds or the desire to donate money to an NIL collective. What he’s doing instead is agreeing to perform an operation valued at roughly $6,000 in exchange for social-media exposure from the athletes documenting their experience.

Roughly 40% of the U.S. population is near-sighted, Kugler said, and 85-90% of that group are eligible to have that condition fixed. With upwards of 600 Nebraska student-athletes on campus, that could add up to between $1 million-$1.3 million in services if every eligible person takes him up on his proposal.

“It’s a big commitment, yes,” Kugler said with a laugh. “But we’re really excited about it because it’s not just throwing finances at a problem. Our motivation is actually to help the student-athletes reach their full potential. It allows us to do that in a different way.”

A virtual screening and in-office examination would determine who qualifies.

The offer, which went live April 25, began its second week having received applications from 28 football players. Three had already completed virtual sessions.

Michael Zoerb, vice president of brands and channel partnerships with Opendorse, said the campaign is still in the “awareness” phase – that is, spreading the word. What makes Kugler’s NIL offer unique nationally, he said, is the scope. Most businesses receiving exposure for high-value commodities and services – houses and cars are the most popular, he said – identify one or two high-profile targets and work with them specifically. That’s been true for other LASIK providers too.

“This is a pretty big idea saying he’ll offer it to everybody,” Zoerb said.

Why everybody? The big reason, Kugler said, is to emphasize the point that LASIK is not a cosmetic luxury but rather that good vision is essential for anyone to function at their best.

“If we’re going to make a difference, we can’t just pick a star,” Kugler said. “We have to be able to say we believe – and we really do believe – that visual performance is key to athletic success. This is a way to illustrate that and also support our team.”

Recovery time for the procedure is generally 24-48 hours, meaning many Huskers could undergo the operation in-season without missing action. Kugler said if early reviews are positive for all parties, he views the offer as a “long-term” and “continual” proposal for all Nebraska student-athletes now and well into the future.

Helping NU representatives is also a personal honor for Kugler, who didn’t attend Nebraska but has come for football games since the 1970s and uses season tickets that are still in his family. Maybe free LASIK will help someone perform better in a big moment. Maybe it will make the difference for someone in the recruiting process.

In a brand-new NIL world, it’s a vision Kugler is seeing for the first time.

“I love to be a supporter of the athletic department,” Kugler said. “This is the best way I know how to do that.”

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