Kansas State name, image and likeness collectives welcome new NCAA policy guidance

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Just two weeks ago, Curry Sexton was looking back on the first nine months of a new NCAA policy allowing college athletes to be compensated for their name, image and likeness.

The NCAA rule, which went into effect last July, opened a whole new world of possibilities for athletes who previously were prohibited from legally sharing in revenue they helped produce for their schools. Sexton, a Kansas City-based attorney, former Kansas State football player and essentially an expert on the subject, welcomed the change.

But as the months unfolded, Sexton also became somewhat disillusioned by how quickly NIL, governed by a relatively vague "interim policy," seemed to morph into something quite different than the original intent.

"What we're seeing now is all of the illegal activity, all the impermissible activity that has occurred for years and years and years, is now just occurring out in the open," said Sexton, who last month partnered with fellow K-State alumni Aaron Lockett — another former Wildcat football player — and Brian Morris to launch The Wildcats' Den NIL collective. "I shouldn't be surprised, but I think I am a little bit surprised that everything has transpired so quickly, the way it's transpired.

"I didn't think we'd be getting into the obvious recruiting inducements so quickly. I didn't think people would just be openly crossing that line, and I didn't think we'd be getting into, 'Hey, we're buying players or buying recruits or buying transfers.' "

More: Kansas State basketball target Antoine Davis to return to Detroit Mercy, NIL deal in hand

The NCAA apparently thought the same thing, because on Monday the Division I Board of Directors issued new, updated guidance to member schools "regarding the intersection between recruiting activities and the name, image and likeness environment," and warning that it intended to crack down on abuses.

"The guidance was developed by a task force of national leaders with student-athlete opportunity at the forefront of discussions," the NCAA statement said. "Specifically, the guidance defines as a booster any third-party entity that promotes an athletics program, assists with recruiting or assists with providing benefits to recruits, enrolled student-athletes or their family members.

"The definition could include 'collectives' set up to funnel name, image and likeness deals to prospective student-athletes or enrolled student-athletes who might be considering transferring. NCAA recruiting rules preclude boosters from recruiting and/or providing benefits to prospective student-athletes."

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Ryan Henington
Ryan Henington

Sexton and Ryan Henington, a partner in Wildcat NIL, another Kansas State-centric collective, both welcomed the NCAA's announcement. While both groups bill themselves as NIL collectives, they emphasized that their operations are in line with the policy's original intent.

"It's important for people to know what's really going on in the NIL space," said Henington, a member of K-State's 2021 football team who completed his Master's degree in business administration last December. "What the NCAA did (Monday) was they came out and they pretty much said they're going to start enforcing the rules that have been in place since July 1, 2021.

"It's not the rules that have changed, it's just the NCAA's intent to begin the enforcement. In totality, it should be a benefit to Kansas State. It should work to kind of limit the recruiting chaos."

More: Former Kansas State basketball All-Big 12 guard Nijel Pack is headed to Miami and the ACC

The Wildcat NIL collective was formed by former K-State football players Henington, Ross Elder, Jesse Ertz and Brad Fulner. And much like Wildcats' Den, its mission is to help support current athletes, not involve itself in recruiting.

"At Wildcat NIL, we have zero footprint in recruiting," Henington said. "We focus on rewarding student-athletes that have sweat equity in the program and that are enrolled and invested.

"Frankly, booster recruiting has always been illegal, and NIL shouldn't change that. So it's good that the NCAA is stepping in now."

While the NCAA guidance said it will largely focus on future NIL indiscretions, it also said it will review violations that may have taken place before May 9 on a case-by-case basis.

Sexton, who last month likened the current NIL landscape to the "wild, wild west," said that while he appreciated the NCAA's statement, he remained skeptical about its impact.

"I think it was a necessary move by the NCAA, (but) it very well could be too little, too late," Sexton said. "I don't know what effect, if any, it will actually have, because I think a lot of people seriously question the NCAA's ability to enforce anything at this point in time.

"I think that it's very important that this policy change be made, because these boosters and these collectives getting into the recruiting space is getting out of hand. It's creating a shift in collegiate sports that makes it so that NIL money is not going to current players, it's going to prospective athletes to buy them for a particular institution. So, I think it's a very appropriate change and it is a policy that should have been in effect all along, if it wasn't, which it arguably was."

While Sexton and Henington both insisted that the guidelines will have no effect on how their collectives do business, one former K-State athlete recently made NIL news in a way that might have precipitated the NCAA's action.

Basketball player Nijel Pack, who entered the transfer portal shortly after Jerome Tang was introduced as the Wildcats' new coach in March, committed to Miami and on the same day signed a NIL deal worth $800,000 over two years. LifeWallet, the company signing him to the deal, is run by prominent Miami booster John Ruiz, who has signed up a number of other Hurricane athletes as well.

"I think that activity and some of the activity you're seeing with respect to high school football recruits, I think that's what drove this decision because it was getting a little out of hand," Sexton said. "The Nijel Pack, Miami and LifeWallet issue I think opened a lot of eyes."

While some schools have been more aggressive than others with NIL, K-State has for the most part taken a hands-off approach, other than making sure that any NIL deals signed by their athletes are in compliance with the rules.

"I think K-State has taken the right approach," Sexton said. "We have groups who are willing to try to drive NIL for our student-athletes, so there's no need for them to get involved and risk some possible violation of NCAA policy."

Henington agreed.

"In the long run, it should be of benefit to K-State," he said. "Especially being a standup, blue collar program that takes pride in doing things the right way all the time, including Wildcat NIL."

KANSAS STATE NIL COLLECTIVES

Kansas State has two collectives, both formed by groups of Wildcat alumni, that are geared toward helping athletes take advantage of the NCAA's name, image and likeness policies:

  • The Wildcats' Den, started by former K-State football players Curry Sexton and Aaron Lockett, along with alumnus Brian Morris. https://thewildcatsden.com/

  • Wildcat NIL, formed by former football players Ryan Henington, Ross Elder, Jesse Ertz and Brad Fulner. https://catsnil.com/

This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Kansas State collectives support new NIL NCAA guidance