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New Alabama high school association leader Heath Harmon must handle NIL question

Jeremy Crabtreeby:Jeremy Crabtree06/10/24


Last week when neighboring Florida became the 36th state association to allow high school athletes to participate in NIL, it created questions about what’s next with the Alabama High School Athletic Association.

That scrutiny developed because of the news from the Florida High School Athletic Association but also because the AHSAA named Oxford High School principal Heath Harmon as its new Executive Director.

Harmon – who has more than a decade of experience as a football coach with stops at White Plains, Andalusia, Munford and Cordova – replaces Alvin Briggs, who retires in early July. Briggs leaned heavily on the AHSAA’s amateur policy that says high school student-athletes “can’t use (their) athletic abilities to gain anything financially” during his three-year tenure.

But with neighboring associations in Georgia, Tennessee and Florida allowing high school student-athletes to participate in NIL deals without losing their eligibility, Harmon can’t avoid the name, image and likeness debate. Heck, even the South Carolina High School League appears to be on the verge of allowing NIL for its athletes.

Where is NIL prohibited for high school athletes? | NIL High School Rules

New AHSAA leader knows NIL debate coming

During his introductory news conference, Harmon was peppered with questions about NIL. He wouldn’t indicate whether or not he supports deals for high school athletes, but Harmon said he was acutely aware many people in Alabama are cautious to accept major change when it comes to prep sports.

“What I need to do during this transition period is see where we are actually in that work and making sure that we’re moving quickly enough to where we have a solid plan, but not too quickly to be reckless with that, so definitely that’s one of those big items that we’ll be looking at,” Harmon said. “I want to feel things out. We don’t want to do anything to hurt our core purpose.”

“I consider myself a transformative leader. That doesn’t necessarily mean change. It means building capacity with everybody. It’s very important that we determine what our core purpose is.”

Some Alabama leaders want cautious NIL approach

Still, there are vocal leaders who are strongly encouraging Harmon to take a deliberate approach to NIL reform.

“My thought process is it’s going to come but I hope Alabama is 50th,” said UMS-Wright Preparatory School’s Terry Curtis, who holds the record for the most football coaching wins the state and is the incoming president of the AHSAA’s Central Board.

“It’s a good thing maybe that we haven’t gotten it yet. It’s so new, we can see what works and what doesn’t work in other states. It will help us in what we do to watch other states and talk to them. Most of the plans are pretty much modeled the same way. Unlike in college, we’ve got to have something controllable.”

Additionally, Harmon will be tasked with the growing concern statewide regarding “transfer-portal” type activity going unregulated by the AHSAA. reported that multiple varsity coaches said out-of-state coaches in NIL-legal areas are recruiting players, and several Mobile-area football coaches discussed the players hopping from one school to another during high school football media days last fall.

“We’ve got to protect what we have,” Harmon said. “We’ve got to look at our traditions – that’s where I begin when I think about my entrance into the position. … That’s always a challenge. We’ve got to have an eye to the future too, and we can do that without running roughshod over tradition.”