The devil you know is sometimes better than the one you don’t know – or so they say. Probably no organization in athletics, at least collegiate athletics, is more universally hated than the NCAA – with the SEC coming in a close second. In the latest Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) drama, according to an article by Sports Illustrated, college athletic directors are pleading with the NCAA to regulate and sanction schools with boosters who have struck deals with players to sign with their schools.
The latest pay-to-play involves Kansas State men’s basketball’s Nijel Pack who transferred to Miami University (not Ohio) and promptly signed a NIL deal with a Hurricane booster for $800,000. According to the Kansas City Star, the Wildcats then lost a key prospect, Antoine Davis, as the high-scoring guard decided to remain at Detroit Mercy after reportedly agreeing to a lucrative NIL deal with a Chinese basketball manufacturer to produce custom glow-in-the-dark basketballs that will feature custom logos and designs by Davis. The deal could be worth in excess of six figures, according to college basketball insider Jeff Goodman.
“This is the time we have to put our stake in the ground. Enough! This is not acceptable,” frustrated Colorado athletic director Rick George said in the SI piece. “What we’re doing is not good for intercollegiate athletics, and it has got to stop. Donor-led collectives have struck deals with players before they sign binding letters of intent are violating rules, says George, one of the leaders of an NCAA working group that will soon publicize additional NIL guidelines.
But is it too late to do so when we’re toeing the line where ‘paying players to transfer’ is bad while ‘paying players to play’ at a school is acceptable? Coaches for years have walked the thin line with Adidas and Nike who are (technically) not allowed to direct their AAU high school athletes to universities and coaches that wear their shoe and apparel brand but funnel millions of dollars to the same collegiate athletic programs that feature their brand.
One early victim of the NIL uncertainty is the University of Illinois which has withdrawn efforts to add Division I hockey. One of the reasons cited was the chaos created by NIL and potentially costly legislation which may leave their athletic department cash-strapped as they try to support football and basketball in the Big 10.
The soon-to-be-released NCAA guidance clarifies existing NCAA bylaws that prohibit boosters from being involved in recruiting. Any booster or booster-led collective that has been found to have associated with prospects about recruiting—on another college team or in high school—will be found to have violated NCAA rules and put the booster’s school at risk of sanctions, George says. In addition, a booster, or booster-run collectives, “cannot communicate with a student-athlete or others affiliated with a student-athlete to encourage them to remain enrolled or attend an institution.”
But the NCAA is in the process of being stripped of their enforcement role. When that process inevitably comes to its conclusion, how will this new set of rules be regulated at the field level?
In the meantime, NCAA leaders have spent three years lobbying Congress for an NIL bill to save collegiate athletics from itself. While the debate rages on with a patchwork of state regulations, it is not expected to be addressed by Congress until next year. Even then, legislation is likely aimed at big-time college football and basketball with little consideration of the collateral damage done to non-revenue Olympic sports.
On Capitol Hill, the disagreement among leaders from the two parties centers on the structure of a bill. While Republicans want a narrow bill that focuses only on NIL, Democrats are supporting more broad legislation—a sort-of college athletes bill of rights that touches on topics such as revenue sharing and long-term healthcare. This will no doubt come as a shock but the two sides could not reach a compromise despite positive movement last May, as SI documented in a prior article.
A one-size-fits-all solution is unlikely to fit for mid-majors like the University of Denver which run a department deficit and could ill afford to tackle the high costs associated with long-term health care and a host of other issues that may apply to Power-Five basketball and football programs that generate millions of dollars annually. And any federal regulation is likely to apply to all athletes – revenue and non-revenue producing sports as well as Title IX requirements.
While short-term legislation by the NCAA may set-out new guidelines, it won’t stop the chaos. Expecting the US Congress to sort out a complex problem in a single piece of legislation is a pipedream as well. Recruiting, just like shoe company money, is likely to move back underground with a wink and a nod between coaches, boosters, and athletes, just like it’s always been.
The NCAA to the rescue? Don’t hold your breath.
Top photo: AthleticDirectorU