NCAA efforts to curb NIL collectives seem unlikely to succeed
NCAA leaders believe they can put the genie in the bottle. The toothpaste back in the tube. The Vaseline back in the jar. Catch Usain Bolt with a 10-meter head start.
Choose whichever analogy you prefer.
Sports Illustrated’s report that an NCAA task force is finalizing guidelines intended to prohibit boosters from using NIL deals as a recruiting inducement is welcome news. But it probably would have been more welcome a year ago. It’s hard to envision the chaos that’s ensued since being easy to corral.
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The plan, such as it is, simply calls for existing rules to be enforced.
Those rules make it clear that Name, Image and Likeness benefits are to be paid by a 3rd-party for services provided. A player signs autographs at a local car dealership once a month and gets a car, for instance. Athletes with large social media followings are paid to be “influencers,” as endorser is apparently a word we don’t use anymore.
NIL benefits are not to be paid by the university itself, however. And according to NCAA rules, school boosters are considered to be an extension of the athletic department. They aren’t employees, but they are stakeholders who help fund that department.
According to the report from SI’s Ross Dellenger, these bylaws will be used as the basis for a new rule that prohibits booster-backed NIL collectives from associating with high school recruits and collegiate transfers.
Several of the usual suspects, including Miami and USC, have been accused of violating the spirit of NIL thus far.
Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison is the most egregious example of that concept. Addison entered the transfer portal with a rumored 7-figure NIL offer waiting if he signs at USC.
Addison is already considered the best receiver in college football and has little to prove before next year’s NFL Draft. The NCAA would have no issue with him making that money if he were already a Trojan. Or if someone in Pittsburgh coughed up that money to keep him at Pitt.
It’s the rather obvious pay-for-play inducement that rankles college leaders. And it has already reached ludicrous levels.
American Football Coaches Association director Todd Berry revealed that some boosters are attempting to pay players that coaches don’t even want on their rosters.
One of the funnier twists on this new dynamic. pic.twitter.com/ETaIu9tCzv
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Obviously, we’re past the point that guardrails need to be put in place. But that may prove as effective as placing a speed limit sign on the Autobahn.
Why the NCAA will struggle to combat the issue
The NCAA can try to stamp out this issue. But there’s big-time money involved here. And when there’s big-time money, there will be legal challenges. It’s unclear whether the NCAA would win those challenges.
Different states have different laws pertaining to NIL. Some states have yet to address it with legislation. That leads to some dizzying possibilities.
An example: Let’s say that USC, Miami and Wisconsin’s NIL collectives were all found to violate the rules. (To be clear, there is nothing to suggest Wisconsin is running afoul of anything — it’s just a state that has yet to pass any NIL legislation. Which is important here.)
In theory, the NCAA could place sanctions on all 3 programs. But in court, a judge in Florida might rule the NIL collective did nothing wrong. A judge in California might rule in favor of the NCAA. Or vice versa. And who even knows what recourse Wisconsin would have.
It’s a mess. And it’s hard to see how the NCAA will effectively enforce rules with so many sets of laws out there.
Administrators dropped the ball
There was an opportunity to get out ahead of this. The NCAA squandered it.
Apparently afraid of another showdown in a courtroom, Mark Emmert and his consiglieres decided to let the process play itself out. And it has played out just as expected: The worms moved in immediately.
“Seems to me we would have been infinitely better off had we gone ahead and implemented the guardrails,” outgoing Big 12 commish Bob Bowlsby told Dellenger. “At least we would have provided some guidance.”
Rather than guidance, we got chaos.
One hopes the new measures, which are expected to be approved next week, will have some teeth.
But in all likelihood, the NCAA is equipping itself with lassos for the task of herding cats.