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NIL – A Nightmare for College Athletics Compliance Officers

Over the past year the job of a college athletics compliance officer has gotten much tougher – some would say it’s now almost impossible to effectively execute. That’s not because these experienced compliance professionals have lost their ability to perform well in an already challenging environment, but rather due to the seismic changes occurring in the college athletics landscape.

In the last year changes have been made in the NCAA Transfer Portal which now make it easier for qualifying student-athletes to transfer to other schools and to play immediately without either: 1) the permission of their coach or school; or 2) the requirement of serving any penalty. But the ground-breaking change which has grabbed the attention of everyone associated with college athletics involves the use of an individual’s name, image and likeness (NIL) for commercial and promotional purposes. The contents of the policy essentially provide for athletes to benefit financially from their NIL. The effective date of this interim NCAA policy was July 1, 2021. While dozens of states rushed to pass NIL laws, the interim policy serves as a stopgap measure until federal legislation is adopted. Sandra Jordan, Chair of the Division II Presidents Council and University of South Carolina Aiken Chancellor said at the time, “The new policy presumes the fact that college sports are not pay-for-play. It also reinforces key principles of fairness and integrity across the NCAA and maintains rules prohibiting improper recruiting inducements. It’s important any new rules maintain these new principles.”

While the NCAA’s new policy was well-intentioned, college athletics compliance officers immediately began to learn of the challenges of monitoring recruiting and other activities brought about as a result of the changes in policy. Then NCAA President Mark Emmert said, “The current environment – both legal and legislative, prevents us from providing a more permanent solution and the lack of detail student-athletes deserve. With the variety of state laws adopted across the country, we will continue to work with Congress to develop a solution that will provide clarity on a national level.”

With the barn door now open, and the toothpaste out of the tube, and with no permanent solution in sight, it should be no surprise the NCAA, college administrators, coaches, and players, including athletics compliance personnel, that the situation was ripe for abuse and has the potential for changing the future of college athletics. The failure to compensate athletes fairly over the years is incomprehensible coupled with lavish athletic facilities and out-of-control coaching salaries. Abuse brings control, and now the NCAA is faced with the challenge of making a prudent response.

Consider for a moment just a few examples of what’s already gone wrong:

• In a January 15, 2022 article authored by sports multimedia journalist Adam Rossow, he writes that “Texas A&M boosters are rumored to have committed over $25 million to NIL deals to help bolster recruiting, with this year and in the future.” Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M head football coach, said in December, “NIL has been going on for a long time, it just ain’t been above board. Now it is and I think it does affect things.” Rossow went on to report that “University of Texas boosters recently set up a program that’s paying $50,000 per year to offensive linemen who are on scholarship. It’s part of the non-profit Horns with Heart Initiative.”

• At the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida, it has been reported in the Miami Herald that billionaire booster John Ruiz is giving millions to UM players who have signed agreements to promote two of Ruiz’s companies, LifeWallet and Cigarette Racing. Some of the deals, reportedly, provide luxury vehicles to the athletes. Ruiz, who has a law degree, has made it clear that he is meticulously following and abiding by all NCAA rules and Florida NIL laws. “I am never going to do anything that is going to break a rule,” he said. “If I do something improper… the ones that get hurt are the kids and the school. I’ve got to be super extra careful. I always take the most conservative approach. We have 30 attorneys here. We provide contracts to UM, and we’re in contact with their compliance department.” According to sports writer, Grayson Weir, “The University of Miami has received an influx of high-profile commitments across all sports in recent weeks. Those commitments often coincide with some massive NIL deals that are being signed shortly after the decisions were announced.”
Monitoring and managing scenarios like those described above are just a few examples of the new challenges faced by college athletics compliance officers.

Again, from the NCAA – “If a college athlete lives in a state where legislation has been passed, they can profit from their name, image or likeness according to the state law. And if a college athlete lives in a state that is without current NIL laws, it’s up to the individual schools to create a policy for athletes to follow. While the NCAA’s guidelines prevent direct pay to athletes and make it clear that NIL deals cannot influence recruiting, everything else is currently up to the individual states and universities.”

It is doubtful that any federal NIL legislation will be acted upon until after the mid-term elections. In the meantime, the NCAA recommends that any prospective and current student-athletes with questions regarding a specific NIL activity should consult with the athletics compliance department at the NCAA school they attend or plan to attend. Note from the NCAA – “NCAA prohibitions on pay-for-play and improper inducements remain if effect; however, the national office will not interpret state or federal laws or institutional policies.”

What could possibly go wrong?

Dave Dodge
Dave Dodge
David Dodge, Carlsbad, California, served as a NCAAM D-I basketball official for 30 years, officiated in numerous International tournaments, serves on the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO) board, received NASO’s Mel Narol Medallion Award in 2010 for his leadership and contributions to the officiating industry and Association, and was founder, president and chief executive officer of a South Carolina-based healthcare risk-management services company for 25 years.