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NCAA Board to recommend direction on NIL reform policy

Eric Prisbellby:Eric Prisbell07/31/23


The NCAA’s new NIL policy will begin to take shape Wednesday.

That is when the NCAA’s Division I Board of Directors will receive a summary report from last week’s two-day NIL stakeholders meeting before it answers an important question that will frame the NCAA’s strategy moving forward.

“The Board has reserved NIL as an issue that they are very interested in and they want to take the lead on,” Lynda Tealer, chair of the NCAA Division I Council, told On3 on Monday. “The question then is, ‘What do they want to see next from the NIL working group?'” 

After assessing the primary concepts discussed by the working group, the Board will recommend what concepts it would like to see addressed in an evolved NIL policy. The recommendation could be to proceed in any number of directions, including for the working group to pursue a narrow proposal, a more ambitious one, or something in between.

Tealer, who will provide the report to the Board, said the NIL working group met virtually Monday for an hour to discuss feedback it received from last week’s stakeholders meeting in Indianapolis. The working group today did not draft formal legislation.

Among the primary concepts in play: a database of NIL deals, uniform contracts and a registry for those – namely agents and collectives – participating in the NIL space. A source with direct knowledge of the meetings told On3 that stakeholders had varying degrees of interest in those specific concepts, with some questioning how practical it would be to implement them.

Notably, the subjects of enforcement and the ongoing collision of new, school-friendly state NIL laws with NCAA guidelines were not major issues discussed in the meetings, multiple sources said.

In terms of a timeline, even if the Board prefers an updated, narrow NIL policy, it likely would next be handed off to the Division I Council in October. On Wednesday, the Board will see and hear about concepts. There will be no legislation drafted to be adopted at this point.

‘It’s gotten really ugly in the space’

Monday represented more of a procedural step for the NIL working group, which has been tasked with drafting a quasi-backup plan – a so-called Plan B – in case the NCAA’s aggressive lobbying efforts with Congress do not yield federal legislation.

Evolving its interim policy – buttressing the underpinning of the space – does not reflect a strategy pivot, another source said. Work to secure a federal NIL bill – several bill drafts have circulated in recent weeks – continues and remains paramount.

Examining the NCAA’s aggressive push for federal NIL laws

Stakeholders say there is more work for the NCAA ahead to address pain points in the NIL space. Asked Monday if the work of the NIL working group, to date, is enough to properly restructure the space, Big Sky Commissioner Tom Wistrcill told On3, “We need to do something, and so far we haven’t been able to do anything. State laws have gotten so crazy that we’ve got to get to a point where we can at least level-set the field. And then we have to give it some time and evaluate how this is going to work.

“What we have figured out over the last year or two is that what we are doing now ain’t working. It’s gotten to a point where it’s totally pay-for-play. I’d rather just try something and not have it work than do nothing and continue down this path. It’s just gotten really ugly in the space.”

Would uniform contracts work with NIL deals?

As far as a new NIL policy, a potential registry, in which individuals would need so-called authorization to be able to conduct business with student-athletes, would be a notable step toward enhancing protections and transparency for athletes, sources said. 

On another front, Mike Aresco, the American Athletic Conference commissioner, cautioned that uniform NIL contracts could be fraught with challenges because of the number of different types of NIL deals, including signing autographs, sponsoring a car dealership, making TV appearances and much more. 

“There is every kind of NIL known to man,” Aresco told On3. “It’s hard to have a uniform contract for NIL. I’d have to be shown how that could really work.”

‘Bringing some transparency’ into the NIL process

Among the items on the NCAA’s wishlist for the federal bill is a national NIL standard that preempts the patchwork of state NIL laws. In recent months, a handful of new, school-friendly state laws have been enacted to give in-state schools advantages. Those advantages include prohibiting the NCAA from policing certain NIL activities.

The NCAA in recent weeks issued a memo in which it said schools must adhere to the association’s guidelines when they conflict with NIL laws in those respective states. But the NCAA remains fearful of policing the space because it’s increasingly vulnerable to litigation.

Val Ackerman, the Big East Conference commissioner, said during LEAD1 Association meetings this spring: “We’re sort of paralyzed now in our inability to pass rules. That was [caused by] Alstonwhich called into question the NCAA rule-making authority. That, I think, has been debilitating.”

The NCAA last week in Indianapolis convened a wide swath of industry leaders, including student-athletes, for the two-day meeting. The purpose was to solicit additional feedback on an array of policy concepts from a broad audience. 

First-year NCAA President Charlie Baker has publicly stated that he covets consumer protection measures, some of which will be discussed with the Board on Wednesday. Stakeholders have stressed upgrading the NIL policy does not mean they are not walking the landscape back to a pre-NIL era.

“There is no effort to reduce access to NIL opportunities for students,” Tealer said. “Bringing some transparency into the process was discussed. As was the notion that even with the assistance of Congress, there is room for the NCAA to operate to add some stability and clarity to the NIL environment.”