One year into NIL era, fresh questions about its future

(AP) — The first year of the athlete compensation era in college sports evolved into almost everything the NCAA didn’t want when it gave the green light last summer.

What was envisioned as a way for college athletes to make some pocket money based on their celebrity has turned into bidding wars for top recruits and transfers who can command millions for their services. State laws have been passed or overturned and funding in some cases is coming from deep-pocketed donors and alumni who have waded into the recruiting wars.

The current frenzy has given rise to serious concerns about recruiting practices and competitive balance and, in turn, questions about where NIL compensation — short for name, image and likeness — goes from here. Will Congress get involved? Will schools take on a primary role?

“The way this money situation is exploding on schools, they’re going to compete themselves into the ground,” University of Illinois labor law professor Michael LeRoy said. “They can’t all win under these rules.”

Some would say there are no rules, or that rules set up by the NCAA and in state laws have no teeth and are treated more like suggestions.

“When you see Nick Saban losing his cool over recruiting, it’s a sure sign that damage is being done at the highest levels of NCAA athletic competition,” LeRoy said, referring to t he Alabama football coach’s comments in May alleging Texas A&M “bought every player on their team.”

The NCAA interim NIL policy says there is to be no pay for play, no recruiting inducements and that athletes must provide a service in exchange for pay. With the schools themselves left out of the loop in the wheeling and dealing, so-called booster collectives sprung up to provide earning opportunities — and, critics say, recruiting enticements.

Basketball player Nijel Pack made one of the first big splashes in April. When his transfer from Kansas State to Miami was announced, it was made public he would get a two-year, $800,000 deal with a medical tech company that came with a car. Pack already is featured in an advertisement.

There have been media reports of football and basketball recruits and transfers being promised millions of dollars in NIL deals — all against the rules because they haven’t enrolled.

The NCAA Division I Board of Governors in May warned that enforcement staff would investigate and take action against the most “outrageous violations,” with the schools being penalized for boosters’ improper conduct.

Dionne Koller, a professor and director of the Center for Sport and the Law at the University of Baltimore law school, said she’s not surprised how NIL has unfolded. The market, she said, was at a boiling point.

“Because we now let the genie out of the bottle,” she said, “this is what’s happening.”

Short of congressional action to sort out NIL issues, some wonder if athletes will be declared employees of their schools and have NIL issues addressed through collective bargaining.


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