Name, Image and Likeness Part 1: Answers to biggest questions
The one thing that’s certain when it comes to the future impact of name, image and likeness in college sports is that no one is quite certain of anything.
So embarking on a weeklong series to explain and prognosticate what will happen could be viewed as foolhardy, if not completely premature, especially with no NCAA legislation yet in place.
However, after talking to branding experts and creative designers at colleges, after talking to players and coaches and NCAA officials, and after spending weeks immersed in the latest news surrounding this topic, we’re prepared to open the door on this emerging story, one that could have a tremendous impact on recruiting.
We start with a Q&A to dissect some issues, to correct some misconceptions and to establish some truths moving forward in this series:
RIVALS' NAME, IMAGE & LIKENESS SERIES:
MONDAY: Answers to biggest questions | NIL 101 - What it is and where it stands
TUESDAY: Building an athlete's brand
WEDNESDAY: What HS athletes think
THURSDAY: How colleges are handling this
FRIDAY: The most marketable college athletes
Where does name, image and likeness (NIL) stand right now?
At its meeting in April, the NCAA Board of Governors supported changes to the rules that would allow student-athletes to be compensated from endorsement deals, according to a release by the NCAA. The board also supported compensation for other opportunities including social media campaigns, entrepreneurship ideas and personal appearances. Student-athletes would be permitted to introduce themselves by sport and school but logos and school/conference trademarks would be prohibited.
The next step is for the former proposal of these NIL rules changes to be submitted no later than October and then the NCAA board will vote on that proposal no later than January 2021.
The NCAA has said guardrails will be in place so no pay-for-play schemes can be implemented. So what would that look like?
Blake Lawrence of Opendorse: “There has been a reference at times of a third-party administrator when it comes to name, image and likeness, and that is of benefit to the NCAA, student-athletes, the institutions, the business, the individuals who are in the marketplace for a couple reasons. One of them is it potentially decreases the compliance burden on the schools. It puts them in a position where this third party tracks NIL activity, identifies parties that are in the market, the types of transactions that are under further scrutiny. One key aspect is making the compliance burden lighter.
“It also creates kind of an at-arms-length for the NCAA to be a little further from the activity so ultimately the NCAA is going to be in a position they’re going to have to put something in the market that is going to accomplish the impossible task of making everybody happy. If that third-party entity or group of entities is tasked in doing so it at least gives distance the NCAA would desire from being the sole party in making this work.
"If you think about 500,000 student-athletes, if the rules changed tomorrow, all of them, every single one of them, could get pitched a deal a day from someone and if you think it’s going to go through a paper process and a compliance office on campus, you’re thinking wrong.”
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Can a local business, such as a car dealership, just hand out money to players and claim it's their “fair-market value”?
Zach Soskin of Voltage Management: “It’s not going to happen quite like that and this is one bit of misinformation that’s out there. The NCAA is going to be very strict about what players get paid for certain things and establishing some sort of market value. From my point of view, the fact that they’re establishing a market value prevents the real market value from being set. It’s not a true free market. Because of the concerns about boosters paying kids what they call endorsement deals but what’s really a payment to go to a certain school, they’re going to be careful to monitor that. Every deal will go through the NCAA (or a third party) in some way.”
Could Nike, adidas, Under Armour or any other major company do an NIL deal with the precondition if the school is outfitted by one of them, the player could get a side deal with that company or another company?
Brady McCollough, Los Angeles Times sports enterprise/college football reporter: "It depends on state by state. Some states have that thing written into it. Others don’t. Some states wrote in stuff about conflict of interest as a protection for the athletic department where they’re outfitted by Nike, but have a player repping adidas with his ads or his social influencing. That is one that’s tough because the NCAA is still pitching all this stuff with Congress and trying to get a national solution. That’s a pretty detailed question and it’s still a little early to actually know what the answer to that would be."
Will advertising budgets even be available for NIL endorsements in the age of COVID-19 and beyond, thus limiting what student-athletes can make?
Jeremy Darlow, brand consultant, former director of marketing for adidas football/baseball: “What I’ve been telling all of my partners is, from my perspective, what I see happening going forward is the 1 percent that was making money off their name, image and likeness post-graduation before are going to be the same 1 percent who are going to be doing it 12 months from now.
"The only difference is they may be doing that as juniors in college instead of post-graduation. That’s the thing we need to educate these kids on. I don’t see the money going up in terms of available endorsement contracts. If you think about this, the brands are going to have less money post-COVID than they did going into COVID. Which means when this NIL rules change kicks in, they might not have even as much money as they had prior to hand out endorsement deals.
"So the offensive lineman at Alabama or the kicker at Clemson may think they can now make money off their likeness, but the reality is these companies are hurting for cash right now, more so than they were going into the pandemic. That means they’re not going to be passing out checks like they may have in the past. There will be less money available for endorsements and that money would have already been earmarked to the 1 percent that was on their way to making that money anyway.”
Is this a situation where a school booster can just hand money to players and claim it’s for their name, image and likeness?
Matt Dudek, Michigan football director of recruiting: “Absolutely not and that’s what we’re explaining to them. According to the information we have, they’re going to be able to make money just like it sounds – on their name, image and likeness. So what does that mean? Everybody is saying autograph sessions. Sure. But I think that’s a very small percentage of what it’s going to be.
"Everybody is saying car dealership commercials. Sure. That could be the case. But you just don’t know until you’re given some type of guidance. We do feel when this does happen, with the Michigan network, with the people and our fans being so engaged in our program and the largest living alumni base, we feel like it’s going to be a great advantage for the University of Michigan.”
Can a college coach help in any way getting businesses to get NIL deals for players?
Brady McCollough, Los Angeles Times: "No. That seems pretty certain based on the NCAA’s working group recommendations that are going to be kind of setting what they’re going to do. For purposes of legal stuff, especially, they want the schools to seem very apart from the process of getting a sponsor or doing NIL deals. They want the coaches, assistant coaches, athletic administration to be able to say this is something apart from them, that they’re not a part of this in any way.
"The most clear way of knowing that is the schools don’t want any of their brands, logos, etc., associated with any of the ads the players do, which greatly limits the earning power for some of those athletes."
Can a recruit get NIL deals before he goes to college?
Brady McCollough, Los Angeles Times: "Start with just the high school level. High school associations have their own amateurism scenarios as well, eligibility stuff. Those organizations would have to change their laws for a high school athlete to be able to receive endorsement money. The NCAA has no intention based on anything they said in any way to make it a recruiting inducement for a school to say, ‘Wink, wink, when you sign with us, this businessman is ready to give you XYZ.’
"This is probably unrealistic, but based on the rules and how they need this to look, they’re going to really, really battle to keep the recruiting environment as ‘pure’ as it’s always been. They really won’t want NIL to be used as a recruiting inducement even though it probably will be under the table. That’s something where this whole thing, the way it’s regulated and the enforcement of these rules, there are still going to be a lot of cops and robbers going on here because the NCAA isn’t going to say transparently that a school’s booster isn’t going to be able to make an offer to a high school senior even above board."
So what is the future of NIL?
Blake Lawrence, Opendorse: “There’s been an evolution of our understanding of it. Most of the national media attention has been on the traditional endorsement deal, the appearance, autograph signing. Even before April, a lot on video games coming back and trading cards, boosters are going to use this for pay-for-play schemes.
“So much of this was doomsday and big-dollar deals for only one person on a campus. Unfortunately, most of those predictions are off, but fortunately for the student-athlete, there’s going to be more opportunities for more student-athletes than the media has given attention to. That’s going to be the emphasis on social media that you saw in the board of governorship report in April. (It) really said the way in which students on campuses today make money is through online presence and different activations way more so than the tradition endorsements that are reserved for pro athletes.
"Where it’s all going is probably foreign to most because of this whole influencer economy and how you make money on Instagram and YouTube and Twitter and TikTok is very novel to most folks. The concepts of control and protection in the market have been understated in what the NCAA plans to do or how that’s going to come to be.”
How would you imagine the NCAA is going to move forward in monitoring this?
Blake Lawrence, Opendorse: "It’s critical to the NCAA model and the collegiate sports model for the amateur status of student-athletes to be protected to ensure schools have no part in or are any party to any NIL transactions. That each NIL transaction is going to be scrutinized, monitored and tracked for any potential malfeasance in terms of businesses or individuals who are trying to use the NIL policies that are going to be changed as a pay-for-play scheme, to attempt to recruit student-athletes to certain schools as well as transfer inducements or other types of benefits that currently would really disrupt the collegiate sports model.
“When you think about what could go wrong or how this could be played, it becomes more and more apparent that the only way in which to ensure a fair market or equal opportunity and to protect the amateur status of student-athletes is to have every NIL transaction tracked in one place, creating a standard of data sets to start to identify what is fair-market value, fair-market volume and anything that falls outside of those realms could go down a path of creating payments that could be deemed impermissible or athletes being ruled ineligible based on their activities in the marketplace.”