College athletic departments have largely been instructed to stay out of the name, image and likeness deal-making process. First, it was the NCAA telling schools not to get involved in facilitating deals. Then, many of the state laws provided the same restrictions.
Schools should educate their athletes, not arrange their NIL activity, the thinking went.
That mindset is changing, according to industry experts in the NIL space.
Tom McMillen, for one, said that athletic departments have the capacity to do everything the donor-led collectives are doing now. And, by doing it themselves, universities can regain control that they previously ceded to collectives.
“The schools are very well equipped to help student athletes monetize their rights,” said McMillen, CEO and president of Lead1, the trade association that represents 130 FBS athletic directors. “The school is involved in every other aspect of the player’s life, from injuries to academics. But when it comes to monetization and publicity rights, it’s ‘hands off.’ So, now, we’re starting to see some schools get more involved. I just wonder whether they are going to go the full route and just get rid of collectives entirely.
“The collectives really are the major potential conflict of interest because it is outside of the school’s control.”
Looking ahead to Year 2
More legal battles to come
“The Kavanaugh concurrence (from Alston v. NCAA) was pretty definitive, so I think we’re going to get more legal challenges until the restrictions on noneducational benefits are removed. That’s the next fight. And what will that mean for student athletes becoming employees of the universities.”
John Raleigh, chief legal officer, Learfield
Need for data the next big story
“The overarching reality is that NIL is supposed to bring any activity to light because it is supposed to be reported by the athletes, and we know it’s not. That’s the story I’m going to be watching. Without that data, anybody can say anything.”
Jim Cavale, founder/CEO, INFLCR
Honesty the best policy?
“The big story is going to be disclosure, transparency and reporting. That will be the story moving forward. Who’s doing what? What’s being reported on taxes?”
Cory Moss, CEO, CLC
School involvement will escalate
“Schools will be more involved in helping structure deals, they’ll be more involved in the setup of teamwide or schoolwide NIL opportunities. I don’t believe the NCAA will attempt to limit athlete compensation from third parties — that’s off the table. If anything, there will be an effort to provide the institutions more ability to work within the collective concept.”
Blake Lawrence, co-founder/CEO, Opendorse
Schools hurt themselves by getting more involved
“Universities are not going to get involved in facilitating deals. It brings up a massive gray area [legally] and it brings up Title IX issues.”
Drew Butler, EVP/Collegiate, Icon Source
The topic of school involvement is far from decided. Some of it depends on what the state laws say.
Lawmakers in Tennessee, for example, passed a state law last year that said school officials can’t be involved in facilitating deals. They have since rewritten the law to permit universities to aid athletes in pursuit of NIL deals and to allow the school to work with collectives. The new law essentially removed any barriers that separated schools and third-party NIL groups, like Spyre Sports Group, a collective in Knoxville.
Many industry insiders would like to see that kind of model across the country.
“I think it’s really important for schools to be more involved, for the sake of the athletes,” said Jim Cavale, founder and CEO of INFLCR, an NIL agency. “We’re going to see schools make hires internally so the employees can help look at contracts, help with fulfillment and activation, and just support the athletes. The resources are there.”
There are reasons for concern legally, however, especially if schools are thought to be bringing more deals to the men’s teams than the women’s teams.
“I think it’s a massive gray area that brings up Title IX issues,” said Drew Butler, executive vice president, collegiate partnerships, at Icon Source, an NIL marketplace that represents brands.
But now that schools are almost a year into NIL and they see where the needs are, it’s time to adjust, they say.
“The NCAA and a lot of these state laws got it wrong,” Altius Sports Partners CEO and founder Casey Schwab said. “And now we’re seeing the remedy in the form of more school involvement.
“Schools not only should be involved with their athletes and their NIL deals, they have to be involved in order for this thing to not spiral out of control.”
McMillen said it’s time “to go to the full evolution and let the schools take over. They’ll probably hire third parties to manage it, like they do with multimedia rights, but the control will be with the school. That is the long-term solution to everything.”