Analysis | An NCAA policy change on NIL could have a major impact on recruiting

Analysis | An NCAA policy change on NIL could have a major impact on recruiting

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

The latest Friday news dump in college sports: The NCAA has temporarily paused existing investigations — and will not begin new ones — into whether name, image and likeness (NIL) collectives have broken recruiting rules, according to a letter sent to member schools by NCAA President Charlie Baker.

Take a seat. Stay for a few minutes.

Last Friday, exactly a week before Baker sent the letter, the NCAA suffered another loss in court, this time in Tennessee. A district judge sided with the attorneys general from Tennessee and Virginia, ruling that the NCAA was violating antitrust law by prohibiting collectives — groups that are funded by donors and not officially affiliated with schools — from talking money and signing contracts with athletes during the recruiting process.

In other words: As part of its interim NIL policy, rolled out in the summer of 2021, the NCAA has not allowed collectives to use money to influence athletes’ decisions about where to attend school. But because the judge barred the NCAA from enforcing that rule in eastern Tennessee — at least temporarily, while the trial is ongoing — Baker and the Division I board of directors chose to pause all investigations for the same time period. This, Baker wrote in his letter, applies across Division I.

NIL is everywhere in college sports. But what exactly does it mean?

Call it leveling the competitive playing field, making it so collectives in Tennessee are operating under the same rules as collectives in Alabama, Rhode Island and Nebraska. Or call it an attempt at clarity for schools that have been fumbling through the dark for close to three years now.

“I realize pausing NIL-related enforcement while these other bylaws are upheld by the injunction will raise significant questions on campuses,” Baker wrote in Friday’s letter. “This is precisely why a DI meeting room, not a courtroom, is the best place to change NCAA policy. This is the only practical response to the injunction at this time, and we hope the attorneys will work with us to clarify next steps.”

Baker noted “there will be no penalty for conduct that occurs … while the injunction [from the district judge] is in place.” But he added the NCAA is still enforcing three parts of its NIL policy:

  • The prohibition on paying athletes for “specific athletics performance” (what the NCAA calls pay-for-play).
  • The prohibition on schools directly paying athletes through NIL deals (which Baker hopes to change, though he says he needs congressional help first).
  • The requirement that athletes actually do something to receive NIL money.

That first rule is viewed as fairly frivolous. Of course many athletes are paid to play their sports, just not in the same way you are paid to work 40 hours a week. But this is the NCAA maintaining that athletes are not employees — and should not be considered employees — of their schools or conferences, an especially relevant stance as the Dartmouth men’s basketball team pushes to unionize.

In the place of schools paying or actually sharing television revenue with athletes, these donor-funded collectives often pay de factor salaries in exchange for charity work (satisfying the third rule above). Permitted, then, for the time being: A collective representative negotiating and/or signing a contract with a high school recruit or athlete in the transfer portal before the athlete enrolls in the associated school.

Not permitted still: Treating the terms of that contract as payment for athletic performance, even while everyone knows what’s going on.

March is here. Let’s answer some questions about the upcoming Madness.

The reality is collectives were already negotiating deals with athletes before they reached campus. Now, though, they don’t have to worry about the outside chance of their school getting in trouble or an athlete’s future eligibility being compromised by a violation of vague rules.

Collectives, as they currently function, have a heavy influence in football and men’s basketball recruiting. This whole situation stems from the NCAA investigating the University of Tennessee after its collective reportedly signed an $8 million contract with five-star quarterback Nico Iamaleava. At the top of college football, a strong collective helps lure players and coaches, while an underfunded collective often shows up on the field. Many collectives are 501(c)(3) nonprofits, meaning donations are tax-deductible. And yes, the Internal Revenue Service is skeptical of whether they should be treated as charities.

To date, only Miami and Florida State have faced penalties for a violation of NIL rules. Tennessee and the University of Florida have been investigated, according to reports, and it’s likely a handful of other schools are in the NCAA’s crosshairs.

If the NCAA were hellbent on enforcing rules against collectives using money to recruit, it would have probably needed satellite offices in most major-conference towns. But now, when it comes to monitoring collectives, it will sit back and wait for the result of the Tennessee/Virginia case. In the meantime, the men’s basketball transfer portal opens March 18, the day after Selection Sunday.

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