NCAA trying to crack down on booster involvement in NIL deals

The NCAA is trying to crack down on the current climate of name, image and likeness (NIL) payments.

The NCAA’s Division I Board of Directors announced Monday that it has issued new guidance to schools “regarding the intersection between recruiting activities and the name, image and likeness environment.”

The guidance, which is effective immediately, specifically addresses the “collectives” established at schools across the country designed to pool funds together to attract top recruits. These groups are now deemed as boosters by the NCAA, which is still attempting to enforce its longstanding policies against “pay-for-play.”

“The guidance defines a booster as 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,” an NCAA release said. “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.”

The board said it directed enforcement staff to retroactively look into NIL deals that were brokered prior to Monday’s communication with schools. However, the board said NCAA enforcement should “pursue only those actions that clearly are contrary” to the interim NIL policy that was set on July 1, 2021.

That policy suspended NCAA rules barring college athletes from earning income via the use of their NIL. The NCAA held on to those rules as long as it could until states around the country began enacting laws — laws that supersede NCAA rules — to allow college athletes to pursue NIL deals.

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - JANUARY 20:  General view of NCAA headquarters exterior on January 20, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - JANUARY 20: General view of NCAA headquarters exterior on January 20, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

In the 10 months since, there have been hundreds of deals struck by college athletes, including some involving booster groups that reportedly have been as lucrative as six or seven figures. While those are outliers, Monday’s guidance is an attempt to curb “the most severe violations of recruiting rules or payment for athletics performance.”

“While the NCAA may pursue the most outrageous violations that were clearly contrary to the interim policy adopted last summer, our focus is on the future,” said board chair Jere Morehead, the president of the University of Georgia. “The new guidance establishes a common set of expectations for the Division I institutions moving forward, and the board expects all Division I institutions to follow our recruiting rules and operate within these reasonable expectations.”

The board said that its guidance is focused on the involvement of boosters and “not intended to question the eligibility” of the athletes (both recruits and those already enrolled) involved in the NIL deals.

“Only the most serious actions that clearly violate the previously published interim policy would have eligibility implications,” the NCAA release said.

Will the NCAA really go after NIL deals?

The booster groups that worry the NCAA will contend that they are abiding by the NIL laws enacted in their respective states.

So if the NCAA really wants to pursue cases involving NIL deals, it would almost certainly cause lawsuits in response. To put it lightly, the NCAA has not performed well in court with the unanimous Supreme Court loss in the Alston case from last summer looming large.

With NIL laws varying from state to state, leaders in collegiate athletics have been pleading to Congress for some sort of assistance. Just last week, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff were in Washington D.C. meeting with lawmakers in another effort for a federal NIL mandate.

The NCAA had decades to get with the times and establish its own NIL rules, but it continued to cling to its “amateurism” ideal. That all started to crumble once California passed its NIL bill in late 2019, opening the door for other states to follow suit.

At the time, the NCAA said it would consider updates to its NIL rules. None of the proposed changes came to fruition and the NCAA predictably passed the buck to the federal government. When Congress was unable to reach a consensus on the best approach for NIL, individual state laws began going into effect on July 1 of last year.

Ten months later, very little, if anything, has changed.