EDITORIAL: Ready, or Not, Membership to Continue NIL Discussions

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EDITORIAL:  Ready, or Not, Membership to Continue NIL Discussions

Thursday, January 11, 2024

EDITORIAL: Ready, or Not, Membership to Continue NIL Discussions

The 2023 Area Meetings unveiled many topics of membership interest and helped determine the course of discussion and action over the next several months. The assembly’s collective responses indicated Name, Image, Likeness (NIL) will be addressed, maybe as soon as the Annual Meeting in April.

The data collected at the seven Area Meetings this fall, depending on how it is interpreted, may or may not indicate support for consideration of NIL oppor- tunities. Of those that attended the Area Meetings and participated in the poll, 47.3 percent favored consideration to add NIL opportunities. Those opposing new language was 18.6 percent. While overwhelmingly more yes than no votes were cast, 35 percent were noncommittal and wanted to continue the discus- sion before settling in on a position. How this subset leans will determine if it’s closer to a 50-50 split or significantly in support of adding NIL opportunities. In addition, 148 of 515 member schools weren’t represented by the poll. It may be fair to reason it’s not a foregone conclusion the membership supports NIL opportunities, but a pathway appears to be unfolding to bring an amendment to the Advisory Council and Board of Control to determine if it will advance to the membership for a vote in April.

The current amateur status language has been relatively unchanged for many decades with the premise interscholastic athletic opportunities are strictly amateur in nature. There are currently six conditions within Article VI outlining violations of amateur status in the membership’s Rules of Eligibility (p. 32 in the Senior High Handbook).

Undoubtably, there is a trend among state athletic and activity associations nationwide–after the NCAA created its NIL opportunities a couple of years ago following a Supreme Court decision–to loosen their stance on pure amateurism and their restrictions on the exploitation of student-athletes. As the culture in society shifts, it dictates new and different priorities. The NFHS has adjusted its position on NIL in the past two years, asking states to further explore the topic. In addition, it appears the prevailing sentiment within state associations is to move toward adopting more allowances for NIL to help prevent outside intervention dictating NIL measures by the courts or legislatures.

The data we shared at the Area Meetings indicate 32 state associations have approved some aspect of NIL opportunities, up from 16 states a year ago. Seven other states are now considering adding language. That’s just not a trend; it’s a tidal wave.

It remains to be seen if cracking the door on NIL will lead to the opening of the flood gates. We have reviewed how other state associations have altered their amateur status regulations. A potential amendment to our Rules of Eligi- bility will most likely allow student-athletes NIL endorsement opportunities as long as there is no identification or association to the school team, school, con- ference or WIAA affiliation. Any NIL opportunities will also include restrictions collectives in relation to recruiting and booster clubs, subject matter not appro- priate for school-aged individuals as well as continued commitment to the team and school.

The amendment will be a reasonable attempt to compromise and manage our own rules and regulations. Even so, those clinging to the concept of pure amateurism for education-based activities will suggest we need to “be careful what we wish for.” Proponents of NIL language provide a compelling case to allow compensation for employment, regardless of whether it is working at the area grocery store, bailing hay for the farmer next door or if it’s endorsing a local business or service, conducting camps and clinics, or being a social media influ- encer.

How many NIL opportunities will be significantly lucrative at the high school level? Most, if any, will be local opportunities void of substantial marketing budgets to have teenagers endorsing their businesses, services or causes.

For the few teenagers it may provide employment and earnings; however, there are many more that will be void of any opportunities. With teenaged teammates, what impact will it have in the locker room and on the team dynamic when elite star status goes beyond just popularity to actual earnings to be able to afford or be compensated with a shiny, new pick-up truck or advanced training and care?

And, how do we feel about the prospect of a high school athlete potentially making much more than the coach or even the school administrator? This could already be happening based on existing employment opportunities, but it could be more prevalent with NIL earnings based on celebrity derived by athletic accomplishments and abilities.

Consider the difficult parent in pursuit of collegiate athletic scholarships and the pressure that places on their sons and daughters. Is it fair to opine that we can rachet up the pressure a bit if there are NIL dollars in play. That is a family matter, but hasn’t this type of focus ultimately impacted high school programs in some manner?

It’s conceivable that addressing NIL as an association now may help us avoid outside intervention, slow the rush of what may appear inevitable and reduce the number of amateur-status violations. Likewise, it’s equally compelling to imagine the potential adverse scenarios that may begin to erode the foundation that makes high school sports special.

The ultimate impact on interscholastic athletics is relatively unknown with- out a peek into the future, but the adoption of NIL at the collegiate level provides a glimpse of what pitfalls may lie ahead. Fundamentally, NIL could have little significance if the number of opportunities as well as the level of compensation are reasonable.

The current state of amateurism as it relates to interscholastic sports is not a new phenomenon. It may be more of a progression and an evolution of the sport culture that has led us here. As we consider the direction society takes us, it may be more than just the most cynical that believes amateur athletics, in its purest form, is a thing of the past. That’s what member schools will need to come to terms with to determine whether they’re ready for NIL opportunities or not.


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