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Bob Asmussen | Illinois NIL expert Cox fields the tricky questions

Mar. 13—CHAMPAIGN — I've got a feeling Kam Cox is a popular party guest. The kind of guy who is surrounded for hours, taking questions and "suggestions."

Fortunately, the Auburn graduate is a friendly person and doesn't seem to mind. Frankly, the attention goes with his job territory.

Since June 2021, Cox has been Illinois' assistant director of athletics for strategic initiatives. That's a fancy way of saying he is in charge of the department's name, image and likeness program.

In fact, his X handle is @KamCox_NIL. Say no more.

During an appearance on WDWS' "SportsTalk" Monday evening at the Esquire Lounge in downtown Champaign, Cox took questions for 30 minutes from the co-hosts and audience members.

We could have used another hour — easily — to get a grasp on the evolving role of NIL.

There is always an NIL topic or 10 for Cox to discuss. Like the recent court case involving the state of Tennessee, which Cox calls "a big deal."

As Cox explained it, third parties in the Volunteer State are able to promise athletes inducements to attend particular schools.

In the past, two primary rules dominated the NIL world that we're all still getting used to. One, there is no pay for play. And two, there are no financial promises allowed to entice an athlete to attend a particular school.

For now, the Tennessee case allows NIL to be used as an inducement. Third-party collectives can promise money to the athletes.

The Tennessee case puts a hold o the NCAA's push to enforce previous NIL rules that didn't allow recruiting inducements.

The Tennessee attorney general argued making it against the rules to use NIL as a recruiting inducement violates antitrust laws. The court issued a preliminary injunction. So, for now, NIL can be used as a recruiting inducement when a third party is involved. Confused? You are not alone.

One of the many issues with the governance of NIL is that vast array of rules state by state.

"This has been a really big curveball in a world that is full of curveballs that is NIL," Cox said.

The state law in Illinois prohibits the use of NIL as a recruiting lure. That's where the practice should land across the country. But good luck trying to get those restrictions passed in the SEC.

Guiding forceWhen coaches have questions about NIL, Cox's go-to line is "listen to the leadership of the department."

Not all the NIL information out there is correct.

"I don't think anyone needs to go try to play lawyer," said Cox, who used to practice law.

Cox starts with a reminder to coaches about the state law and what it means.

The school has a deal with the ICON Collective, the sole recognized third-party entity involved in NIL with Illini athletics.

One caller Monday asked why it is OK for Iowa women's basketball superstar Caitlin Clark to wear an Iowa jersey during State Farm Insurance TV commercials, but Illinois athletes like former wide receiver Isaiah Williams and men's basketball guard Luke Goode can't mention the team they play for during radio spots.

"All of that has to do with the relationship between the school and the brand separately from the relationship between the student-athlete and the brand," Cox said.

Cox explained that Iowa has a relationship with State Farm, which makes Clark wearing her uniform acceptable.

For Williams and Goode, Illinois doesn't have a relationship with the businesses involved.

It's complicated.

Loaded questionIt came from me. If Cox could go back three or four years before the onslaught of NIL legislation, what would he change?

"I wish the institutions could have been able to get more involved from the beginning," he said. "The institutional perspective may not be the perfect perspective, but the institutions have a lot of experience when it comes to seeing policy for college sports. And we interface directly with student-athletes. We understand what it is to be responsible for the well-being of young people."

Pitching inIllinois helps the athletes with tax and accounting advice. And has for years.

There are regular education sessions and experts brought in to answer questions.

The departments wants the athletes to be prepared for the reality of what is next.

During recruiting weekends, Cox meets with the players and their families.

"My primary role is sharing information about what's available at the University of Illinois,' he said. "When a recruit comes and they sit across from me with their parents, the main thing they want to know about is what it is we have in terms of our infrastructure. That's why it's really important that we have all of these different pieces."