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NCAA looks to rein in boosters

by The Associated Press | May 14, 2022 at 2:01 a.m.
FILE - UConn's Paige Bueckers stretches during a practice session for a college basketball game in the final round of the Women's Final Four NCAA tournament April 2, 2022, in Minneapolis. In 2019, California became the first state to pass a law allowing athletes to earn money on endorsements, autograph signings and other activities, and by July 2021, the NCAA lifted its decades-old ban. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

By trying to limit how much schools can help college athletes cashing in on their fame, the NCAA seems to have inadvertently opened the door for boosters to get a foothold in a burgeoning market.

Now, as the NCAA and its highest-profile Division I member schools try to rein in booster-fueled organizations known as collectives, part of the solution could be taking down the firewalls between athletic departments and athletes when it comes to name, image and likeness compensation.

"The school is who helps the athlete when they have an injury″ said Jim Cavale, the CEO of INFLCR, a company that works with more than 200 Division I schools on NIL programming and compliance. "The school is who helps the athlete when they struggle in school. The school is who helps the athlete with everything. And yet they're not able to help here and it left a gap where the school can't be involved and a booster and donor can."

Earlier this week, the NCAA handed down guidance that made clear collectives should be treated as boosters, which means they should not be contacting recruits -- high school or transferring college athletes -- and influencing where they go to school.

Boosters can, however, be involved in NIL deals with athletes after they have enrolled.

The latest guidance was developed by a group of college sports administrators that included Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith.

"The primary concern was exactly what has emerged. It is the recruiting space," Smith said. "We've got to focus on the front door."

Smith earlier helped craft a plan to regulate NIL compensation that was never implemented by the NCAA.

That 31-page report released in April 2020 was dominated by the idea that schools should not be involved in NIL transactions amid pay-for-play concerns and fears it would eventually lead to student-athletes looking more like employees. The report included this line: "Outside the context of providing financial aid up to cost of attendance as allowed by prevailing law, schools, conferences and the NCAA should play no role in arranging NIL activities or payments for student-athletes."

That hands-off tone was reflected in many of the more than two dozen state NIL laws, including the one in Florida where schools are barred from any involvement in outside compensation for athletes.

"It's ironic that the NCAA drafting rules but not setting them actually indirectly created a rule that opened the door for collectives to walk in and be a solution where the school could not," Cavale said.

What has emerged is collectives filling the role of deal maker and boosters operating with little or no accountability and oversight beyond the honor system.

"Any kind of outsourcing of benefits to athletes is not ideal. It's sub-optimal," Florida Athletic Director Scott Stricklin said.

Stricklin said he and his staff communicate with the collectives working on behalf of Florida and are confident they are working within the rules. However, highlighting the line between what is and is not allowed with boosters and NIL is far easier than policing it.

"I don't know what legal guardrails could be put in place where you could prevent donors being involved, boosters being involved on some level (with recruiting), even though none of us want that," Stricklin said.

Louisiana and Missouri are currently trying to rework their state NIL laws to allow schools, and even coaches, to be more involved in how athletes are compensated.

If that happens, they will be talking with collectives that do not all operate the same way. Some are being set up to engage a university's supporters and alumni more broadly, but others are funded and operated by smaller groups of wealthy boosters.

Smith said more involvement by athletic departments with NIL would help. Schools would be better off playing the role of matchmaker between athletes and brands while still staying out of the negotiation of any deals.

"To me," Smith said, "that's the line in the sand."

  photo  FILE - Alabama celebrates after their win against Ohio State in an NCAA College Football Playoff national championship game, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. College football and men's basketball players on scholarship in one of the major conferences can expect to soon earn a minimum of $50,000 each year he plays because of the influx of cash from so-called booster collectives brokering name, image and likeness deals.That prediction, based on market trends, was made this week by Blake Lawrence, co-founder and CEO of a company that helps athletes and schools navigate the ever-changing NIL landscape. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
 
 
  photo  FILE - Kansas players celebrate a win over North Carolina after a college basketball game in the finals of the men's Final Four NCAA tournament, Monday, April 4, 2022, in New Orleans. College football and men's basketball players on scholarship in one of the major conferences can expect to soon earn a minimum of $50,000 each year he plays because of the influx of cash from so-called booster collectives brokering name, image and likeness deals. That prediction, based on market trends, was made this week by Blake Lawrence, co-founder and CEO of a company that helps athletes and schools navigate the ever-changing NIL landscape. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)
 
 
  photo  FILE - Ohio State gathers before an NCAA College Football Playoff national championship game against Alabama in Miami Gardens, Fla., Jan. 11, 2021. In 2019, California became the first state to pass a law allowing athletes to earn money on endorsements, autograph signings and other activities, and by July 2021, the NCAA lifted its decades-old ban. Football players earn the most, followed by women’s and men’s basketball players, according to Opendorse. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)
 
 
  photo  FILE - Signage at the headquarters of the NCAA is viewed in Indianapolis, March 12, 2020. By trying to limit how much schools can help college athletes cashing in on their fame, the NCAA seems to have inadvertently opened the door for boosters to get a foothold in a burgeoning market. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)
 
 
  photo  FILE - Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith answers questions during a news conference, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, in Columbus, Ohio. The NCAA seems to have inadvertently opened the door for boosters when it comes to college athletes cashing in on their fame. The latest guidance was developed by a group of college sports administrators that included Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)
 
 
  photo  FILE - Univ. of Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin smiles during a news conference at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla., Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021. By trying to limit how much schools can help college athletes cashing in on their fame, the NCAA seems to have inadvertently opened the door for boosters to take hold of a burgeoning market. Stricklin said he and his staff communicate with the collectives working on behalf of Florida and are confident they are working within the rules. However, highlighting the line between what is and is not allowed with boosters and NIL is far easier than policing it. (Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun via AP, File)
 
 

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