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High school athletes facing NIL future
Justis column: But is it healthy to focus on marketing for younger and younger athletes?
It’s been about a year since the NCAA approved a recommendation to suspend its rules surrounding amateurism.
NIL, as it’s called, allows college athletes at all divisions to monetize their success with the use of their Name, Image and Likeness.
The old rule prohibited athletes from accepting outside money, thus preserving amateurism. That’s no longer the case. Along the way, the NIL guidelines have widened the door for high school athletes to begin earning compensation, with a few exceptions.
Nike recently signed its first high school NIL deal, inking Los Angeles Harvard-Westlake soccer players to a multiyear agreement. A five-star basketball prospect was among the first to sign a deal with Puma. High school guidelines are determined by each state’s athletic associations. Nine states sanction NIL — Alaska, California, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York and Utah. Ohio voted against it recently.
Most high school athletes won’t sign NIL deals because signatures primarily are reserved for elite athletes. Overtime Elite offered basketball stars six-figure salaries. Those teenagers forfeited their NCAA eligibility, while high schoolers not accepting pay do not.
According to Jean Berger of the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union, high school athletes in Iowa always have been able to utilize their NIL for compensation with the following exceptions:
- No pay for play. An athlete is not permitted to receive compensation based on performance, such as placement in a road race or golf tournament, or enrolling to play at a certain school based on compensation.
- High school athletes are not permitted to utilize their school in any way to receive compensation — no uniforms, no use of school facilities, no wearing of their school logo. The relationship must be based solely on the individual’s name, image, etc. as opposed to a connection to a school.
The guidelines mirror those of the Iowa High School Athletic Association for boys. Executive Director Tom Keating said the organization is in the process of developing written guidelines to help parents and young people maneuver NIL. Boys in the state also cannot use the school’s mascot or apparel, and photos taken at the school or facilities.
“We strongly urge parents hire an attorney or contact the NCAA before signing any agreement on behalf of their children when it comes to the NIL,” Keating said. “We’re not trying to paint them into a corner and our intent is not to prevent them from earning compensation. They just have to be certain not to jeopardize their NCAA eligibility.”
In a recent National Federation of State High School Association media availability session and an ensuing article, Karissa Niehoff, Chief Executive Officer, said, “We believe the purpose of high school athletics … is not to develop professional athletes but to develop kids, to help kids develop life skills and help them develop relationships.
“The high school locker room is arguably the last bastion of amateurism within an educational-based setting, and we want to protect that. High school students can enjoy some success with NIL, but it cannot be done while wearing the school uniform.”
If a local car dealership or other business wants to have your high school student-athlete represent their business in a newspaper or television ad, the child cannot display any connection to his or her school in any form — not pictures, uniforms, logos, etc. This would be most likely in a hometown ad where the public may know of the athlete without showing or mentioning such connection.
Niehoff said “there is a concern about the absolute breakdown of culture and climate of the high school locker room and the purpose for kids to play high school sports. If high school student-athletes are allowed to wear their Friday Night Lights jersey to engage in professional contracts, not only are the dynamics of amateurism disrupted, but also the dynamics of a team, the school and the community. You have students earning money because they are a high school student and a pretty good athlete with the jersey on. This is extremely disruptive to the purpose of high school sports.
“… we are resolute in the belief that high school sports is not about preparing students for the next level of play but preparing students for life.”
Other takeaways from the NFHS session was that prohibited compensation connected to high school sports could cause kids to transfer to private high schools or participation in more club sports, instead of playing for their public high school teams.
Discussion also revolved around the fact that NIL “could create opportunities for state high school systems to help student-athletes learn more about entrepreneurship and business at an earlier age.” High school systems could develop specific curriculum based upon helping students grow their brand.
Is it healthy for athletes to focus on marketing at younger and younger ages?
Nancy Justis is a former competitive swimmer and college sports information director. She is a partner with Outlier Creative Communications. Let her know what you think at email@example.com