NCAA targets collectives with new NIL guidelines


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The NCAA’s Board of Directors issued guidance Monday designed to stop the apparent role of deep-pocketed collectives using name, image and likeness deals to influence recruits’ signing decisions and authorized investigations of glaring violations to date.

The guidance, issued in the form of a memo, was proposed by a task force assembled to bring clarity to the rapidly evolving landscape of college sports, in which athletes, since July 1, have been permitted to earn money for endorsing products, signing autographs or otherwise using their fame to promote businesses without jeopardizing their amateur status.

The memo stated at the outset that the NCAA reaffirms athletes’ rights to profit from NIL deals. Its concern is with the behavior of the third-party entities, often referred to as collectives, that broker many of the NIL deals. Specifically, the NCAA board underscored that collectives may not dangle the promise of NIL deals as inducements to persuade recruits to sign with one school instead of another nor use them to coax enrolled athletes to transfer to another school.

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Doing so, the memo made clear, would violate existing prohibitions on boosters injecting themselves into the recruiting process. The NCAA defined boosters in the memo as a “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.”

While the guidance is effective immediately, the board also directed the NCAA enforcement staff to review violations that occurred before Monday and pursue “only the most severe violations of recruiting rules or payment for athletics performance.”

Georgia President Jere Morehead, chair of the NCAA’s Board of Directors, called it “a significant first step” in addressing some of the improper NIL-related behavior that runs afoul of long-standing NCAA recruiting rules.

Kansas City, Mo.-based lawyer Mit Winter, a former Division I basketball player well-versed in NIL issues, explained the essential point behind the NCAA’s guidance.

“What they’re really trying to do is reiterate that collectives are boosters, and boosters are not allowed, under current NCAA rules, to be involved in the recruiting process,” Winter said. “They’re not supposed to talk with recruits, not supposed to meet with recruits or their parents. The guidelines also reiterate that coaches or other athletic personnel are not supposed to communicate with recruits on behalf of boosters and collectives as well.”

What Winter found more compelling is the NCAA’s go-ahead for its enforcement staff to investigate the most egregious violations to date.

“The NCAA’s purpose in giving the enforcement staff the go-ahead to start investigating deals is not so they can declare athletes ineligible,” Winter said. “They want to get to the bottom of what the collectives have been doing in the recruiting process and, also, to see if the schools have been working with the collectives in the recruiting process. The entities that are going to be penalized are the schools if the NCAA finds they have been working with the collectives.”

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One case that may draw NCAA scrutiny involves Tennessee’s recruitment of rising high school senior Nico Iamaleava, a quarterback from Southern California, who committed amid reports of NIL deals worth seven figures.

The nine months that college athletes have had the right to profit from their name, image and likeness have been marked by inconsistency and confusion because the NCAA failed to establish a national policy. Instead, individual states, conferences and schools were left to decide their own rules, and an incoherent patchwork resulted.

Some members of Congress voiced concern during hearings last fall about disparate rules leading to recruiting advantages, but Congress has taken no action.

In an effort to bring order to the quickly evolving landscape, in which college athletes can shop for more lucrative deals from state to state, the NCAA formed a task force to delineate the role of collectives in particular.

It’s unclear how the NCAA intends to enforce its recruiting rules among collectives that operate outside college sports. Monday’s memo reiterated that schools are obligated to report potential rules violations through the NCAA’s self-reporting process.


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