Since officially taking over July 1 as the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association’s executive director, Donnie Nelson has been sharing his office with an 800-pound gorilla who keeps asking a two-part $64,000 question:
When is NIL — name, image and likeness, and the ability for high school athletes to financially benefit from them — coming to Nevada high school sports (and activities)? And what impact might that have?
“Our association is taking a proactive approach in addressing name, image and likeness for our student-athletes,” Nelson said this week. “We are looking at following the model that California and New York have built.
“We’re not opening the door for high school student-athletes to benefit financially off their NIL while representing their school, team or sport. We are, however, looking at student-athletes being able to benefit through social media or other endorsements in ways that don’t identify them as being student-athletes.”
To summarize, here’s what the rules say in California and New York: Athletes can agree to commercial endorsements as long as they aren’t affiliated with the athlete’s school or team. If you’re going to be compensated for appearing on a trading card or in a TV commercial for a local car dealership, you can’t wear a team jersey or a cap with the school logo on front.
Nelson said although the language for NIL legislation in Nevada high schools already has been written, there’s not a date or timetable for how long it takes to be adopted into regulation. “But we’re on our way,” he said.
As for the current temperature among the NIAA membership regarding that legislation, Nelson termed it normal “because we haven’t seen the NIL issues represent themselves in our state.”
But he’s not so naive to believe they aren’t coming.
It was recently reported that every member of the nation’s top-ranked prep football team, St. John Bosco of Bellflower, California, had received an NIL offer from an equipment company. In August 2021, Quinn Ewers, a five-star quarterback recruit from Texas, announced he would be forgoing his senior high school season to enroll at Ohio State (he has since transferred to Texas) and ostensibly maximize his NIL earnings potential. Bronny James, LeBron’s son who plays for Sierra Canyon High in Chatsworth, California, has signed an underwear deal and is ranked No. 1 among amateur athletes with an NIL valuation of $7.2 million by on3.com, an NIL website.
”We’ve got two major metropolitan areas, and in both we have high-level student athletes who are going to go on (to college and potentially benefit to a much greater extent from NIL),” Nelson said. “But it doesn’t mean that a student in any community couldn’t be approached from an auto dealership that says we want to give you some money to do a commercial for us.”
The growing concern in college athletics is that NIL will further widen the gap between the haves and have-nots. But Nelson doesn’t envision that happening in Nevada.
“Our goals and objectives are a little more restrictive,” he said. “We’re not the NCAA. We don’t have a transfer portal. I guess that’s the best way to say it.”
Nelson said another aspect about NIL that tends to get overlooked is educating students and their families about the ramifications and gravity committing to such an agreement.
“We want to be sure students are protected,” he said, citing an example in a neighboring state where an athlete signed a five-figure deal with a company before learning it was a lifelong contract that would limit his potential NIL benefits in college.
To that end, Nelson said the NIAA is looking at partnering with an outside group to be a voice for the NIAA and advise athletes, parents and inner circles about NIL before signing away their earnings potential.
But while the world is changing around them, Nelson there’s one directive that does not change, even with an 800-pound gorilla running amok and asking $64,000 questions about a big can of worms that seems on the verge of having its top popped off.
“The biggest thing for our association, for our membership, is to make sure we do the very best to protect what education-based athletics and activities are all about,” he said.
NIL and high schools
A list of states or regions where high school athletes are permitted to financially benefit from their name, image and likeness:
Alaska; California; Colorado; Connecticut; District of Columbia; Idaho; Iowa; Kansas; Louisiana; Maine; Massachusetts; Minnesota; Nebraska; New Jersey; New York; North Carolina; North Dakota; Utah