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Dramatic change is coming to college sports.
Legislation allowing student-athletes to pursue endorsement opportunities and monetize their celebrity status will have an enormous impact on the landscape of amateur athletics. Laws related to name, image and likeness, or NIL, will shatter the basic concept that has defined the NCAA model for more than a century: that student-athletes cannot be reimbursed in any form for participating in college sports.
In short, NIL represents a revolution in college athletics unmatched since the NCAA began sponsoring women's championship sports in 1981.
"This is really a seismic shift in how athletes are going to be compensated and recruited and where they’re going to decide to go," said Irwin Kishner, the co-chair of the Sports Law Group at Herrick, Feinstein. "It really is unique in a certain way."
While change is inevitable, the immediate future is uncertain. Several states have legislation set to enter into law July 1, but there is no uniformity across these states in how the law will be established. There is also no national NIL legislation, though several members of Congress have introduced bills on the issue.
With these regulations set to transform college sports, here are the biggest questions on where NIL stands on a statewide, national and NCAA level:
What does name, image and likeness mean?
Longstanding NCAA bylaws prohibit student-athletes from endorsing or promoting products or services even on an unpaid basis. Name, image and likeness refers to an individual's ability to capitalize on their publicity and be compensated through third-party endorsements.
What are some examples of NIL in action?
For one, athletes with a significant social media following can be paid for a sponsored post. Popular athletes with broad name recognition could be paid for autograph sales.
This would be a common scenario: A company or service — say, an energy-drink brand — contracts an athlete with a large following on Instagram to promote its product. Much like an influencer, that athlete would then write a post, likely with the help of an outside company hired by a school to assist in content creation, and then share an image or video of them with the drink along with various hashtags or slogans.
What states have legislation?
Five states have legislation set to go into effect as of July 1: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and New Mexico. Nebraska's law can take effect at the discretion of each school in the state. Dozens more states have either passed laws with a later effective date — such as California and Colorado, which has legislation set to move into law on Jan. 1, 2023 — or have bills currently under debate in the state legislature. Most recently, a member of the Ohio legislature introduced a bill Monday alongside Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith.
What is different across the pieces of legislation?
There are key commonalities among the bills set to go into effect this summer. For example, schools may not limit a student-athlete's NIL rights and an athlete is allowed to obtain professional representation to help negotiate arrangements and contracts with outside companies or services.
But there are several differences that illustrate the challenge of enacting national legislation that meets the demands of every party involved — from student-athletes and the NCAA through local and national politicians.
In Georgia, the law gives in-state schools the ability to require that student-athletes share up to 75% of NIL compensation. That total would be pooled into an escrow account controlled by the athletics department and then distributed upon graduation or one year after an athlete leaves school, with the disbursement based upon “the number of months the individual was a student-athlete."
Legislation passed in Alabama prohibits athletes from entering into agreement with a company advertising any tobacco product, alcoholic beverage, marijuana, adult entertainment or gambling. Alabama's law also allows schools to prohibit athletes "from wearing any item of clothing, shoes or other gear while wearing athletic gear or uniforms" licensed by the university.
Meanwhile, the New Mexico bill does not allow schools to "prohibit or discourage a student athlete from wearing footwear of the student athlete's choice during official, mandatory team activities so long as the footwear does not have reflective fabric or lights or pose a health risk."
What is happening in other states?
Only nine states have not at least introduced some form of NIL legislation, indicating the bipartisan popularity of laws dismantling the longstanding amateur model. Those states are Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Maine, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. Athletes at schools within these states will not be able to pursue NIL opportunities until legislation is passed in the statehouse or a federal law goes into effect, whichever comes first. That's not to say there isn't legislative interest in passing bills in these nine holdover states. There are simply some states that, for now, remain on the sideline unless the NCAA acts.
Where do things stand with the NCAA?
The NCAA has not unveiled any regulations related to NIL and may not make any public pronouncements until after the result of NCAA v. Alston, a case currently before the Supreme Court that questions whether the current rules regarding student-athlete compensation violate federal antitrust law.
But some movement may come on June 23, when the Division I Council is expected to act on NIL if "it is feasible to do so," the NCAA said last week. What that means is very much open to interpretation, but the NCAA would seem to have three options.
One is to enact NCAA-wide regulations on NIL, which seems overly ambitious at this late date and might run into pushback from state legislatures and Congress. Another is to offer proposals on future NIL regulations while handing out waivers against NCAA sanctions to schools and athletes within states with enacted legislation. And the last would be to issue waivers and punt on NIL entirely, at least for the time being.
And what about on a national level?
Congress is debating three bills that would provide a uniform NIL solution, but the author of one of those bills, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., recently told USA TODAY Sports “it will be difficult … if not impossible” for a federal law to be enacted before July 1.
Will athletes in major sports benefit most?
The biggest names in the biggest sports — football and men's basketball — will have a major advantage in earning lucrative endorsement deals. According to a study published in February by the Temple University School of Sport, Tourism and Hospitality Management, former Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence had the highest-valued Instagram account among college athletes with an annual value of $331,272.
But that same study found that athletes across non-revenue generating sports can still capitalize on their social-media prowess to "attract endorsement deals from sponsors with the opportunity to develop an audience and operate as influencers."
And the study found that female athletes can reach a broader audience on social media. During this year's March Madness, eight of the 10 most-followed basketball players in the Elite Eight were women; Connecticut phenom Paige Bueckers had more than twice as many followers on Instagram and Twitter as the most-followed male player, Gonzaga freshman Jalen Suggs.
One female athlete from a non-mainstream sport, Oregon softball player Haley Cruse, has over 1,000,000 combined followers on TikTok, Instagram and Twitter.
All things considered, the study concluded that among the average college athlete, "female student-athletes actually ranked higher than male athletes" in endorsement power on social media.
What will be the cost for schools?
The market has become saturated with companies dedicated to assisting schools and athletes steer through the NIL landscape. Leading companies such as INFLCR and Opendorse have struck deals with hundreds of schools to provide services related to content preparation, creation and delivery.
These companies provide a window into what NIL legislation may cost major universities willing to make a heavy investment: Opendorse, which was co-founded by a former Nebraska linebacker, has partnered with the Cornhuskers' athletics department on a deal worth $250,000 annually.
Recent news from Washington gives further insight into the expenses associated with meeting the demands of NIL. The Huskies' projected budget for the 2022 fiscal year includes a $1.75 million placeholder for NIL legislation and the potential fallout from NCAA v. Alston.
What impact will NIL legislation have on recruiting?
There is the question of how programs located in states with NIL legislation on the books may have a distinct recruiting advantage over the rest of the NCAA. All things being equal, a prospective student-athlete may choose one program over another based on the ability to draw compensation, creating a temporarily uneven recruiting landscape.
That advantage may continue for two types of schools. One is the school able to present the best program for maximizing an athlete's NIL rights. The second is the specific program with the largest national footprint — Alabama football, Duke men's basketball, UConn women's basketball and others.
It would seem logical that these national powers would have the financial wherewithal to present student-athletes with the most in-depth NIL assistance, giving these programs a leg up on their peers in recruiting. Not that this would change much: Those schools dominate the recruiting landscape as it is.
Follow colleges reporter Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: College sports: How name, image and likeness laws will change game