As most of the world already knows, on July 1, 2021 the NCAA made it legal (based on the Supreme Court’s decision) for collegiate athletes to monetize their name, image, and likeness. And while this decision has had numerous twists and turns since that day, one that has not yet taken full effect regards to high school athletes.
There are currently 9 states that allow high school athletes to participate in NIL partnerships, with California being the first to pass the law and Louisiana being the most recent. The rest of the list includes the following:
While these 9 are the only ones currently allowing it, several others are in the process of moving forward with high school NIL as well. There’s a very good chance that by the time you read this there could be several more states onboard. The primary difference between rules governing high school versus collegiate athletes is that each state has its own high school athletic association that determines the legality of such issues, adding a layer of governance on top of those with state laws regarding collegiate NIL.
Enough facts, now time for what you’re really here for - my opinion as the current Athletics Director for Matchpoint.
Having been a high school basketball coach in Louisiana for 20 years, I have the rare ability to look at it from three sides - as a coach, as a player, and as someone involved in the business side of NIL. With that said, I’m breaking each perspective down individually for you here.
Perspective as a High School Coach
As a coach, the first thing I would do is make sure my players were educated on what is allowed - and, more importantly, what’s NOT allowed - regarding NIL partnerships. I would make sure players knew that I had no issue with them participating in legal partnerships, but I personally would not actively be pursuing deals for kids. That would be between them and their parents/guardians. This would hold true for super elite kids in our program as well. I believe a degree of separation is very necessary so that favoritism isn’t perceived by anyone in the program.
Next, I would reinforce our team standards and policies regarding commitment, timeliness, and team first approach. In short, I would make it clear that NIL better not interfere with what we’re trying to accomplish as a group or interfere with team chemistry.
Perspective as a High School Athlete
If I could take myself back to when I was 18, I’m honestly not sure how much I would care about the ability to make money in this space. I wanted to play ball, and that’s it. However, I definitely knew guys that would have been very interested. I probably would have looked into it more heavily if I had been a McDonald’s All-American, for example. (I think I would have been more concerned with jeopardizing my eligibility than anything.)
But that’s where I imagine most players have hesitancy - they don’t know their potential with NIL or have a point person that can provide them with the proper guidance. Getting educated on the rules as well as how to build your social media following effectively is key for all level athletes - even high school - if you want to be successful with NIL.
Perspective as a NIL Business Executive
At this point, I don’t really see a huge market for individual high school athletes to benefit significantly from NIL. I have two primary reasons for this. First, most businesses will be hesitant to attach their brands to a 16,17, or 18 year old kid. Secondly, the percentage of athletes in this age group that would provide any return on investment of significance to the business involved is very low right now.
I see two groups benefiting from this currently, and I’m well aware that things can change. On one hand, the super elite athletes who get national recognition for their ability will have a chance to attach themselves to local and national brands. This will be as much for current partnerships as it will be for developing a relationship when those athletes move on to college. On the other hand, I can see local businesses supporting entire teams in their town/city. However, how much money can each kid make in a deal like this? Not much normally - $50-$100 typically.
There will also be the cases where Little Johnny, the backup offensive tackle on the JV team, gets thrown an NIL bone by a relative who owns a restaurant. But again, that’s not true NIL, no real ROI there for the business.
What does this mean for the future?
As is the case when answering this question with anything regarding NIL currently, the answer is the same: Who knows? There are concerns with the policy however.
While most state high school athletic associations have to be worried about public schools first, does NIL actually widen the gap between private and public schools? It unquestionably does. Could private schools use NIL deals as a recruiting tool, guaranteeing that tuition will be covered for elite student-athletes who are deciding what high school they will attend? While technically it’s illegal, this same thing is happening all over the country at the collegiate level with no consequences from the NCAA to date. Will high school athletic associations will be more effective at handling this same issue? I doubt it.
For those of you still with me, you probably think I am totally against NIL at the high school level. The truth? I’m not a fan, but only because I worry about misguided high school students allowing it to interfere with what truly matters - their performance in the classroom and on their athletic teams. That said, I do believe there can be a benefit to it, especially in the case of local businesses supporting their teams.
Wouldn’t it be cool if teams could perform NIL deliverables (social media posts, personal appearances, etc.) where businesses could pay them something small but also donate to the school, allowing that school to provide better equipment for the athletic department as a whole? When regulations can be put in place, education can be provided, and NIL can have a positive effect on athletic programs at the high school level.
But only if the leadership in charge steps in and provides a structure that ensures what’s best for ALL student-athletes.