DURHAM, North Carolina — When the NCAA changed course last summer to allow athletes to take advantage of their name, image and likeness, its main concern was to prevent NIL from becoming a recruiting enticement.
As the first anniversary of the NIL era approached, the NCAA’s wish did not come true, as one might expect.
“Kids literally pick their college destinations based on NIL,” said Josh Hairston, former Duke basketball player and current Lift Sports Management agent. “If you don’t have a NIL package that looks good enough for kids and their families, then you can’t even have a conversation. Whatever school you are in, you could be a five power school or whatever.
Hairston discussed, among many topics, NIL and its impact on college athletics on The News & Observer’s ACC Now podcast this week.
Last summer, after actions by state legislatures across the country and federal court cases forced the NCAA to act, NIL agreements that would previously have jeopardized eligibility were suddenly allowed.
Since July 1 of last year, outside companies, organizations or individuals, not the schools themselves, have been able to sign marketing deals with current college players. That’s how Duke’s Wendell Moore, for example, promoted Bojangles Restaurant and SlingTV last season while helping lead the Blue Devils to the Final Four.
College athletes can now sell their autographs or participate in events for a fee. They can sell personalized private messages on Cameo. All-ACC center Armando Bacot of North Carolina is on Cameo in addition to his NIL deal with Jimmy’s Famous Seafood, which was announced last month.
Paolo Banchero, a projected lottery pick in the June 23 NBA Draft, signed a deal to appear in a video game last November during his freshman season at Duke.
“I think NIL was huge for the college game, obviously a little late,” said Moore, a Lift Sports Management client who is also expected to be a first-round pick in the NBA draft this month. “I mean, NIL is definitely the reason some kids stay in college instead of trying to pursue their NBA dreams. I mean, sometimes guys, like, you might want to get drafted, but you are not drafted, so you have to go back.
Opportunity and concern
Just last week, Duke freshman Dereck Lively signed a deal with trading card company Topps for college basketball cards to be released next season.
“Now you have the opportunity to go back to college and make as much money, if not more, than you will make playing professionally,” Moore said. “Obviously NIL is doing great things. I mean, it’s making the guys pay. That’s all you can hope for.
Former Duke teammate Trevor Keels has a different opinion. He said he didn’t consider NIL in his decision to enter the NBA draft after his first season with the Blue Devils.
“Honestly, I didn’t really care about NIL,” Keels said. “I still don’t really care. I feel like some players now it’s just go to school is based on NIL. That shouldn’t be your main goal. Your main goal should be to win the championship, to improve in this school. That’s all I mean. So I will focus on winning. NIL, it comes when it comes. My main goal is to try to win, to try to improve every day. Some offers come your way and you consider them, but that shouldn’t be your main focus. »
Hairston played at Duke from 2010 to 2014, in the days before the NIL deals were cleared. It is all so that players now have the opportunity to enjoy their NIL. At the same time, the current situation worries him.
“I feel like there has to be some kind of educational piece, because the two main things for me are guys taking money just to take money,” Hairston said. “And they don’t think about their brand and what it looks like. And then the second thing is, when it comes to education, no one is teaching them financial literacy. Are you getting all that money and spending it? Or do you save for taxes, how do you pay your taxes, all that kind of stuff.
Because schools weren’t making deals or paying athletes, many college sports leaders accepted the new reality when courts pushed the NCAA to allow NIL deals.
At the time, Mike Krzyzewski, a retired Duke basketball coach and NIL supporter, said it sounded simple. It was the theory. The reality is quite different.
“People who make money never do simple things,” Krzyzewski said. “They look at the windows of opportunity. Thus, the NCAA was hit by a tsunami of entrepreneurship. A tsunami. They can’t handle it. The current structure we are dealing with now is outdated and cannot handle what is happening in college athletics.
The landscape is in motion
In May, the NCAA tried to slow down what it saw as a booming paying environment where collectives formed by boosters were seeking funds to set up NIL deals to attract transfers or freshman recruits. .
“Specifically,” reads the statement posted on the NCAA’s website, “the guidelines define as a booster any third-party entity that promotes an athletic program, assists with recruiting, or assists in providing benefits to recruits, student- registered athletes or their family members. The definition could include “collectives” set up to channel name, image and likeness deals with prospective student-athletes or registered student-athletes who may be considering a NCAA recruiting rules prohibit boosters from recruiting and/or providing benefits to prospective student-athletes.
But last week, while saying it was investigating possible rule violations, NCAA law enforcement staff informed its member schools in a letter obtained by Sports Illustrated that athletes’ eligibility current or incoming was not in question.
“Law enforcement personnel are aware of publicly reported stories and other instances in which NIL benefits are potentially being used inappropriately,” reads a letter. “We understand the urgency of members and the need for quick and fair action under the Interim Policy on NIL.”
But, to allay fears, the letter also stated that NCAA law enforcement personnel “are not focused on the eligibility of current or potential student-athletes.”
The push to make college athletes employees, based on the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, also continues. A case that is making its way through the federal court system, Johnson v. NCAA, seeks to do so. On Monday, The Athletic reported that the Southeastern Conference had filed a brief in the case supporting the NCAA’s position that athletes should not be considered employees.
Thus, the landscape of college athletics remains in flux.
Duke basketball coach Jon Scheyer embraced the new NIL reality last week when he hired Rachel Baker as the team’s first general manager. Formerly employed by Nike in grassroots marketing and with the NBA, Baker is responsible for, among other things, helping Duke players and families navigate the new NIL world.
“The state of college basketball is growing and changing at an exponential rate,” Scheyer said in a statement announcing Baker’s hiring. “Rachel is a one-of-a-kind talent with a unique background that will provide our players and their families with an unparalleled resource and partner as we navigate the new frontiers of college basketball together.”
Everyone adapts. And the cost of doing business, both from schools hiring staff to run new initiatives and boosters and from companies funding NIL agreements, continues to rise.
“I mean, you just look at the college football landscape, the SEC what they’re able to do with NIL,” Hairston said. “I mean, they’re able to give guys tons and tons of money. And it’s hard for other schools to compete. And so, I just know from experience, that’s what happens. If you don’t have NIL, if NIL isn’t a good talking point for some families or some schools, then it’s just like, ‘OK, well, you know, thanks for your interest, but we’ll go away .’ ”
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