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Opinion | Name, image and likeness laws will change amateur athletics forever

“Will we like it? I doubt it, but it is here.”

A college football at the goal line on a grass field

American sports fans – both high school and college – are about to witness a dramatic shift in the management and marketing of athletes at both levels of play. It will irrevocably alter the landscape of amateur sports forever.

Amateur sports have been enjoyed by fans since the turn of the century. Who can forget movies like Hoosiers, Rudy, or Friday Night Lights? Or Miracle, the retelling of what is arguably the greatest sports story of all time – the 1980 U.S. Hockey team winning the Olympic gold medal in Lake Placid?

Competition in its purest form. Unfortunately for fans, competitions celebrating a love of sport maybe heading toward a hasty exit from their collective experience as name, image, and likeness (NIL) laws are passed.

Newly implemented NIL laws will allow payment to college athletes for the use of their likeness. The result is a new class of athlete called semi-professional.  Student-Athletes will receive payment while enrolled in an institution of higher learning, many of which receive state and federal tax subsidies. Notably, American colleges and universities offer an important commodity – an educated population – which far exceeds any other nation.

In college sports, each division handles NIL issues differently.  In late 2019, the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) Board of Governors directed the three divisions to pursue rules permitting student-athletes to more easily benefit from the use of their name, image or likeness. The board directed rules changes must maintain a clear distinction between college sports and professional sports and preserve the higher educational focus of the NCAA. This reaffirms collegiate athletes are students first and not employees. The changes also must account for the unique recruiting environment in college sports, which does not exist elsewhere. The NCAA Board of Governors was unable to develop a consensus with regard to rule changes. Therefore, as of July 1, 2021, five states have adopted their own laws with respect to NIL.

The ability of any student-athlete to realize funds based on their NIL will change the tenor of sports forever.. How will run –of- the -mill athletes react when they work diligently in the classroom and on the field yet the super star receives thousands of dollars and they do not? One can argue resentment will be an unanticipated consequence of the implementation of NIL laws.

It is well documented that the infusion of money into any sport dramatically alters the dynamics among coaches, players and fans alike. The focus shifts from athletic achievement to financial gain. Issues surrounding the student-athlete will be “How much money can I make?” Also, “How can I make more?” And importantly, “Who will represent me?” It is vital to recognize the student-athlete is not the only party who stands to gain financially from NIL laws.

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Naïve student-athletes should be protected from potentially unscrupulous sports agents. This cannot be stressed enough. How can we be assured the new NIL agents will not take advantage of the young student-athletes?

The current discussion is largely focused on collegiate sports at this time. It will not be long before high school students will be recruited by sports agents. Pay-for-play will change the landscape of amateur sports at the high school and collegiate levels forever. Will we like it? I doubt it, but it is here. Change is not easy for everyone and change this drastic will be hard to accept.

Get ready; it is here!


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