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From collectives to athletes: How Darren Heitner has pushed forward NIL landscape

Nakos updated headshotby:Pete Nakos06/13/22

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Darren Heitner considers himself to be the real NIL lawyer. 

He’s had his hand in nearly every sector of college athletic’s new era. The intellectual property attorney has crafted deal after deal for the Cavinder Twins. He’s worked closely with collectives, helping form organizations and serving as a resource when interpreting NCAA law. Heitner has served as a consultant for countless brands, too. 

He helped the state of Florida craft its NIL legislation. He’s seen it all.

He’s seen the pros and cons of NIL through these experiences. He’s ecstatic players can finally profit off their performances on the field. And Heitner’s an outspoken proponent against the use of NIL to shop around recruits or athletes in the transfer portal.

“I don’t get involved in shopping players, OK,” he told On3. “I will never put myself in a position where I am jeopardizing the eligibility of an athlete. And I will also I take my job in my profession way too seriously to even put my own license as a lawyer at risk. There are concerns about acting in an unethical manner. Whether it be based on the model rules of professional conduct in my profession, or to the extent that shopping them (players) around would turn me into an athlete agent.

“I don’t specifically seek to represent prospective college athletes or athletes in the transfer portal and shop them around to various collectives to see who the highest bidder will be.”

Darren Heitner, the NIL lawyer

The Fort Lauderdale-based lawyer has seen nearly every type of NIL contract that has been constructed in Year 1. Heitner has been on the side of the athlete and the brand. He’s worked on one-time only deals, and he’s created deals that expand over months.

His first and most notable client has was the Cavinder Twins. The pair Miami women’s basketball stars and social media influencers, Heitner was first introduced to Haley and Hanna’s parents with July 1, 2021, quickly approaching. He played a significant role in the reviewing and negotiation of their contract with Boost Mobile.

Since then he’s worked with athletes such Tyler Van Dyke, JD Davidson, Kenny Pickett, Anthony Richardson and JT Daniels.

While the Miami quarterback uses Rosenhaus as representation, Heitner is called in to negotiate and create contracts. He’s helped Van Dyke strike a deal with luxury car dealership Sarchione Auto, created NFTs and filed to trademark “Tyler Van Dime” and “Van Dime.”

Heitner has worked on behalf of brands Gatorade, INFLCR, Marketpryce and Icon Source, too.

“Every brand typically comes to the table with a different type of agreement,” he said. “Some include FTC disclosures, others don’t. Some are one-off deals where the athlete is responsible for doing one thing at one time in exchange for one payment. Others are for a longer term, and for payments stretched out over an amount of time. Some are royalty based, others are flat fee based, others are equity based.

“These come in all shapes and sizes, which is also why it is so very important for athletes that they have the capacity to hire reputable counsel, somebody who is experienced in this area I’ve been I’ve been practicing law for 12 years and had my own firm now for eight years.”

Shaping future of NIL collectives

Jen Grosso has seen firsthand the impact Darren Heitner has made on collectives.

In charge of legal matters and player relations for the Gator Collective, Grosso said Heitner has been instrumental to collective since talks started about launching the organization. The lawyer has served in an official capacity with Florida, Miami, UCF, South Carolina and Maryland, but he told On3 there’s been contact with a number of other collectives.

Grosso has called in for Heitner’s help in a variety of situations. There’s been plenty of conversations about contracts. But many of their conversations have been getting Heitner’s recommendation on the transfer portal and recruiting.

Those two segments have completely changed due NIL. There’s the rumor that Nico Iamaleava is the five-star recruit behind a reported potential $8 million NIL deal. It’s not been officially confirmed. But within 10 days of the deal being signed, Iamaleava committed to the Volunteers.

The portal has been altered with the one-time transfer policy and the ability for athletes to negotiate prices with schools.

Heitner has been outspoken he is against collectives entering into these waters. And that’s been the exact advice he has dished out.

“We don’t want the athletes to be in the news for the wrong reasons,” he said. “We don’t want to jeopardize anyone’s NCAA eligibility. If we have athletes approach us, we’ve talked to Darren about what can we do? What can we not do? What can we say, what can we not say?

“Obviously very similar with the transfer portal. And the big, the big no no is the inducement component of NIL. You’re looking at those same issues, whether it be a high school player or a transfer portal player. He’s provided us advice on both aspects.”

Not all partnerships have flourished. The Florida alum has been accused by Gators fans of trying to hurt the university by discouraging against collectives breaking NCAA guidance. He’s heard the same from other institutions, too.

In a non-legal capacity, he’s provided help to Florida, Michigan State, Northwestern, USC, Stanford and Arkansas about how NIL rules are interpreted and what their involvement should be in.

The biggest issue NIL is facing heading into Year 2

Darren Heitner has had a very busy year. He’s been on the first floor of the new norm of college athletics. He and his wife had their first child, a son, Maxx, in March.

Things are only going to continue to ramp up. He’s hoping to help educate more athletes on what they should be paying attention to in NIL contracts. Joking around, he mentioned how there has not been a single contract yet that he’s told a client to sign immeditaltey.

There’s a major gap in the education student-athletes are being given in this space.

“Athletes are being provided these opportunities that they absolutely deserve,” he said. “But they’re entering this world without a strong base of understanding what types of language to look for in these contracts. How to properly manage the assets that they’re now going to generate based on these transactions. What they should be doing to prepare for the tax consequences that come with earning money. What are the NCAA rules, what are the state laws within the state.

“I’m doing my best answering these questions on Pro Bono maybe for one athlete or one family per day. There’s over 400,000 college athletes out there. I think a lot of them don’t have an appreciation for much of that.”