Finally, college athletes are about to have the chance to make money off their own name.
Almost two years after California passed the Fair Pay to Play Act, a bill allowing college athletes at in-state public universities and colleges to prosper off their name, image and likeness (NIL), the NCAA is working to adopt new rules to allow athletes to monetize their personas by July 1.
As of Wednesday, 19 states have passed specific NIL laws, which will allow athletes to be compensated in the form of sponsored social media posts, autographs, YouTube channels, endorsement and sponsorship deals, and similar other avenues. Of those 19, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, New Mexico, and Texas have laws that go into effect July 1, while a seventh state, Arizona, will see its NIL law go into effect on July 23.
The possibility of the state of Utah enacting a specific NIL law is, at best, remote. At present, Utah is one of 10 states, and the only state within the Pac-12 footprint, that hasn’t so much as introduced a bill in its legislature.
The fact that the Utah State Legislature has not acted on this is important to note, but it is not prohibitive toward the University of Utah moving on NIL-related matters beginning July 1. The highest-profile athletic department in the state has been preparing for NIL for some time.
Utes are ready, regardless of the NCAA or Congress
When asked in recent months about impending NIL legislation, whether that be from the NCAA or Congress, Utah athletic director Mark Harlan has been consistent in his stance as it pertains to his own athletic department.
Utah will be ready to go on July 1, and it has no intention of being left behind while other states and athletic departments arrive at the starting line.
On June 17, in consultation with the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business and the on-campus Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute, the athletic department introduced Elevate U, which will build upon the already-established Ute Academy student-athlete development program.
Elevate U is placing a heavy emphasis on teaching how NIL works, and how to go about it responsibly.
“I’m really excited about our efforts from our coaches and administrators, who have really put forth a very comprehensive plan to work with our student-athletes,” Harlan said earlier this month. “It starts with educating them on the possibilities, how to best manage their brand, and then making sure they understand both the pros and cons of entering financial relationships, from taxes, to making sure there aren’t nefarious characters, and also the upside when they do the work and do the right thing. We’ve been working really hard on that.”
At least some of Harlan’s optimism is rooted in his well-placed assumption that the NCAA is going to step in and lead the charge on NIL, at least temporarily.
The NCAA has looked to Congress for help, specifically in creating one federal NIL bill that would replace the various state laws that go into effect. It has become clear that a federal bill is not going to be in place in time for July 1, so it falls back to the NCAA.
The Division I Council met on Tuesday and Wednesday, but it did not vote on NIL legislation. The D-I Council has a June 28 backup meeting on the books to settle this. Short of it getting settled then, NCAA president Mark Emmert has promised to get involved himself if the D1 Council does not enact NIL legislation ahead of July 1.
Harlan has continued to be steadfast in his belief the NCAA will come through by July 1, but on the off chance it doesn’t, it is unlikely to matter.
Hypothetically, if the NCAA or Emmert himself don’t get something done before July 1, there are still six states with laws going into effect on that date. If students and athletic departments in those six states plow forward, Harlan believes that Utah could proceed in a responsible manner knowing that “the NCAA would be challenged to penalize students in many states that didn’t have the law, when other states do have it.”
In fairness, that is a chaotic, worst-case scenario, which Harlan does not expect to happen.
“We do expect the NCAA to vote in the rules and regulations on this,” said Harlan, who noted that the University of Utah and Utah Legislature have been in communication about the pros and cons of having an NIL state law. “It’s going to come late, it’s going to come late into June and I think it’s going to take automatic effect. We’ll be ready to make sure student-athletes at the University of Utah get to benefit like other students.”
What is NCAA v. Alston, and does it impact NIL?
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled on NCAA v. Alston, handing down a 9-0 decision against the NCAA.
The crux of the case dealt with NCAA restrictions on providing student-athletes with non-cash compensation for academic-related purposes such as laptops and paid internships. Lower courts previously ruled that these restrictions violated antitrust law, which the Supreme Court affirmed with its unanimous ruling.
In the days since the decision, which included a scathing opinion written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, it has been viewed as something of a beginning of the end of the NCAA model of amateurism. That includes, in non-pandemic times, 10 figures worth of annual revenue, of which the student-athletes see none.
NCAA v. Alston and NIL legislation both deal with further supporting student-athlete welfare, but they are technically unrelated.
That said, one notion across college athletics had been that the D-I Council should not vote on NIL until after the Supreme Court ruled on NCAA v. Alston. That case came back Tuesday, presumably clearing the decks for a D-I Council vote next week.
“In the very, very low-percentage chance the NCAA does not have these rules, we are prepared at the University of Utah to go forward,” Harlan said. “I am not going to allow our students to be left behind in this regard, so we’ll put together a comprehensive package for our students to participate in a thoughtful way, and that’s only if the NCAA does not pass the guardrails. I do expect that they will, but we’ll be ready either way.”