NIL new guidelines, explained: NCAA walks back regulations to protect incoming college athletes from boosters

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The one-year mark of the implementation of NIL is approaching, and it’s certainly had its ups and downs. The celebrated change to college athletics were clarified to schools Monday, as boosters (and shell companies acting in the interest of boosters) were prohibited from having contact from incoming college athletes or their families.

While not a change in and of itself — boosters were never allowed to contact new players — it is a needed clarification as boosters acted as companies to goad perspective student athletes into signing contracts contingent upon them playing for their school.

MORE: Arrival of NIL deals may be vexing for coaches and fans, but let’s not get hysterical

These companies, called collectives, were effectively crowd-sourcing funds from players and fans in order to entice players to their schools.

The governance, posted Monday, is on the NCAA website.

The guidance was developed by a task force of national leaders with student-athlete opportunity at the forefront of discussions. Specifically, the guidance defines as a booster any 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. 

The debate around NIL has reached a fever pitch in recent weeks, with Miami guard Isaiah Wong announcing he was going to enter the transfer portal to try to get paid his worth. After outcry about that announcement, Wong backtracked and recommitted to Miami. What is NIL? The NIL is the ability of college athletes to make money off their “name, image, and likeness.” It was instituted in July of last year after the Supreme Court dealt the NCAA an overwhelming loss.

The NCAA has long argued that, as amateur athletes, players cannot make money off things like jersey sales and autographs. One of the most notable examples of a player breaching NIL is Johnny Manziel accepting money for his autograph at Texas A&M. What doesn’t NIL cover? NIL isn’t meant to get players into contracts with schools. Boosters creating collectives to talk to incoming athletes was never technically allowed. In the example of Wong, he is being compensated by LifeWallet CEO John Ruiz, one of the most aggressive adopters of NIL collectives. Ruiz has publicly stated his ambition to pay at least $10 million in NIL deals to college athletes.

While not illegal in and of itself, Ruiz and his companies cannot approach players who are being recruited. MORE: Isaiah Wong’s agent threatens NCAA transfer portal What’s next? The new guidelines don’t technically change anything. But also, don’t expect abusers of the early adoption of NIL to be punished. The NCAA is still very much figuring out how to navigate these waters. Coaches of major programs such as Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney have already bemoaned the effect NIL is having on the sport, and college athletics seems to be entering a place of Wild West-like regulation. Enforcement has been dependent on self-reporting, something people with the money being thrown around are hardly known to have as a forte.

The NCAA also made it clear in its governance statement this isn’t to threaten eligibility of players.

“The board noted that the emphasis of this NIL guidance is on boosters in the recruiting process and is not intended to question the eligibility of prospective and enrolled student-athletes involved in NIL deals,” it said.

The NCAA’s main goal is to temper the boom of NIL while also avoiding litigation by threatening eligibility too explicitly. That’s a tightrope it will have to walk the rest of the summer as college football season approaches with basketball not far behind it.

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