Page 17 - UMLawyerMag_2023
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On July 1, 2021, college sports changed. The NCAA’s policy allowing student-athletes to profit from their own name, image, and likeness expanded the competition from the field to the front office. Now, a year and half into this new rule, coaches are changing the way they recruit, athletes are changing the way they choose colleges, and legal professionals are scrambling to keep up with a rapidly changing landscape with no time-outs. In the early days of college athletics, athletes and institutions realized the need for organizational oversight. When the National Collegiate Athletics Association first began, its main concern was safety of college athletes, so the rules reflected that. The NCAA regulated the rules of competition, but not much else. As college sports rose in popularity, the NCAA’s role expanded into regulation of benefits student-athletes could receive from schools and boosters in the 1940s. But still, no one anticipated just how large college sports would grow. In the 2020- 21 fiscal year, the NCAA’s revenue was $1.16 billion – and nearly $916 million of that revenue was generated solely through television and marketing rights. Despite the massive amounts of money surrounding college athletics, student-athletes have been required to maintain amateur status. That includes restrictions of playing professionally, getting paid for advertising, contacting an agent, etc. Enter the great debate. With so much money surrounding college sports – specifically football and basketball - many advocates in recent years have pushed for student-athletes to receive some of those benefits. After all, they are the ones directly involved in making their sport popular and successful. Some want them to be paid directly by colleges, others want them to be able to engage in marketing and advertising activities and make their own money. But what about the payment student-athletes already get? An athletic scholarship, which can include tuition and room and board, is worth anywhere between $20,000 and $70,000 a year depending on the institution. Some argue that a scholarship already counts as adequate payment. Then, there’s the worry that pay-for-play will fundamentally change the game. The NCAA rules have always been pretty clear – any payment to student-athletes or gifts to them from boosters is an impermissible benefit. But then things got messy. In September of 2019, California’s legislature passed the Fair Pay to Play act, allowing student athletes to profit off of their own name, image and likeness, as long as the activity does not interfere with the student’s role in their team contract. In June 2020, Florida passed similar legislation. Today, 28 states have passed NIL laws, and 11 more have legislation pending. The NCAA then introduced a plan that took effect July 1, 2021– student-athletes would be able to appear in ads, sell merchandise, host camps, and arrange autograph signings and appearances in exchange for payment from a third party without the athlete’s college involved and in accordance with each respective state’s laws. Immediately after it took effect, the nation’s top college athletes began seeing the benefits. University of Alabama quarterback Bryce Young has inked deals with Dr. Pepper, Dollar Shave Club, and BMW of Tuscaloosa. Auburn University gymnast Suni Lee has signed NIL deals with Amazon, Gatorade, and CLIF bar. Ole Miss defensive back Otis Reese signed a deal in 2022 with, of course, Reese’s. Even some smaller companies have gone all-in on NIL. Blue Delta Jeans, local retailer in Oxford, offered every athlete on the Ole Miss Football roster a deal – a custom fit pair of jeans, valued at $450, in exchange for a monthly social media post. Partnerships and endorsements are now up for grabs at every turn, but for 18 to 22- year-old college students, it can be overwhelming. Since universities are unable to broker these deals, student-athletes are left to fend for themselves in securing an agent and finding contracts. Collectives started to pop up, specifically around Power 5 schools, to fill that gap. NIL collectives are made up of funds pooled together by donors and businesses so athletes can receive payment within compliance of NCAA regulation. Collectives also assist in facilitating deals between businesses and athletes. The Grove Collective, created independently to help Ole Miss athletes, currently has NIL contracts with about 60 Ole Miss athletes. In November 2022, the Grove Collective reached $10 million in funding.  16 

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