A new policy is set to shake up the world of college athletics on Thursday.
The NCAA’s archaic model prohibiting student-athletes from profiting from their Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) is over after decades of activism, court cases and increasing political pressure.
The governing body’s board of directors voted to lift the NIL restrictions that have previously been in place and instituted an interim policy that at last benefits the players who were the ones producing the profits. The next stage will be a uniform set of laws that can be agreed upon by the federal government. On Monday, the NCAA’s Division I Council made this recommendation, three days before laws were set to go into effect in eight states. Twelve other states have also passed NIL laws slated to go into effect in the future.
Schools in states without legislation are free to create their own NIL laws, based on a set of NCAA guidelines, which mirror the laws already passed.
The guidelines are:
- Deals cannot serve as recruiting inducements.
- Athletes cannot receive benefits without services given.
- Agents or representation are allowed for NIL benefits.
- Schools cannot be involved in creating opportunities for their athletes.
- Players cannot promote alcohol, legal drugs like cannabis, tobacco products, adult entertainment or gambling.
“This creates an entirely new landscape,” longtime sports agent Leigh Steinberg told The Post in a phone interview. “It’s revolutionary in terms of the implications in respect to amateurism.”
Multiple experts The Post spoke to believe elite athletes will earn into the seven figures. Just imagine what quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields could’ve earned last year, or dunking sensation Zion Williamson a few years ago? Due to the recruiting boom, the top-rated high school basketball and football prospects now enter college with big names. Now they can profit off of it.
“There really is no limit to the opportunities that they will have,” said Darren Heitner, a sports and entertainment lawyer who helped draft the NIL law in Florida.
The majority of deals, though, are likely to be far smaller and include a wide array of students in different sports, Heitner and former sports agent-turned-sports attorney Gregg Clifton said. They can monetize their social media followings, brand themselves or host a sports clinic, sign autographs or make paid appearances, appear in commercials or endorse products.
“It’s a gateway to open up our bank a little bit financially,” Texas A&M defensive back Leon O’Neal said. “The NCAA makes so much money off our name in general, it almost feels like hard labor. … It’s a new world.”
One opportunity is Jenloop, which offers fans the opportunity to get personalized videos over Instagram or Twitter from celebrities or athletes for a fee. Created by NFL agent Neil Schwartz and his 30-year-old son Jesse, it has several notable college athletes signed up, such as O’Neal, Georgia safety Lewis Cine and Alabama safety Jordan Battle, among others. Ryan Detert, the CEO of Influential, an influencer marketing company, said he is working on a social media campaign with male grooming company Every Man Jack in which he has already signed up 10 college athletes that will pay them in the thousands starting Thursday. The interest from companies Detert works with was substantial — even before NIL has gone into effect.
“There’s a massive desire for Gen Z, early millennial college-age audiences. These people hit them better than anyone,” Detert said. “We’ll probably pay out a few million dollars in payouts to college athletes in the second half of this year.”
Steinberg expects there to be a rash of players signing with agents Thursday. Now that players can have representation while in college, it will move up the timeline of their recruitment.
“Pretty soon we’ll see agents lined up at maternity wards for healthy mothers,” Steinberg joked.
This new landscape may be able to strengthen the level of play, particularly for college football and college basketball, if the new policy attracts more high-end athletes to American colleges. Right now, top high school basketball prospects have a number of avenues to take before they are eligible for the NBA draft. Some have played professionally overseas. Others have joined the new G-League Ignite team that offers lucrative one-year contracts. A new high school league, Overtime Elite, that pays players has even sprouted up.
“A lot of decisions can be altered, simply because of that law that has just been passed,” said Manny Obaseki, a top basketball recruit and soon-to-be freshman at Texas A&M who has a deal with Jenloop.
It could also lead college football players to stay in school an extra year. They currently aren’t eligible for the NFL draft until after their junior years. But for a prospect who may be a mid-round draft pick, playing an extra collegiate season while making money and raising his draft stock could be an attractive option.
“I definitely would’ve stayed for a fifth year [if there were NIL laws],” said Cardale Jones, a former star quarterback at Ohio State. “With my draft status, and still having a household name in college football in Columbus, [Ohio,] I’m pretty sure I would’ve made a lot more money than being drafted in the fourth round.”
Still, there remains a lot of uncertainty, different rules for different schools and states.
Certain state laws requires student-athletes to gain approval from their respective schools, others don’t. Select states prohibit players from signing deals until they arrive in college. There are states that mandate any deals have to be fair market value, while others don’t. Select states won’t allow athletes to benefit from NIL before arriving on his or her college campus. In Georgia, for instance, the law allows schools to take up to 75 percent of NIL profits and pool them together for all student athletes and pay it out after graduation.
Then there are the states where laws haven’t passed yet. Schools in those states can come up with their own NIL rules and guidelines under the parameters set by the NCAA.
“This was not the preferred approach for really anybody. What we’ve got now is a patchwork system,” Big East commissioner Val Ackerman said. “We are now left with a lack of uniformity around the country that I think could prove to be a disservice to the athletes themselves as well as the schools from an operating matter.”
But until Congress acts, this is the new world of college athletics.
Not everyone is thrilled about it, and many don’t know what to expect.
“Am I going to drive by a car dealership seeing one of the players do a signing? What is going on here?” UConn basketball coach Dan Hurley told Yahoo Sports.
One local basketball coach, speaking on condition of anonymity, wasn’t sure what his school had planned, and several others were similarly in the dark. He said it could create friction for his team.
“Everyone will think they should get something, and most guys won’t get anything,” the coach said.
That, of course, remains to be seen. College athletics is entering into a new era — the NIL era. There is no uniformity, but perhaps more importantly for the first time, student-athletes can legally make money off their names.
“You have a real Pandora’s box that’s going to be opened on July 1,” Clifton, the sports attorney, predicted. “It’s going to be a little bit chaotic.”