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Search for standardized NIL rules continue to present challenges to Greg Sankey, NCAA

With Texas and Oklahoma joining the Southeastern Conference in a year’s time, high school coaches in the state of Texas know that more of their players will have a chance to earn name, image and likeness compensation while playing for an SEC school.

They had questions for SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, who spoke at the Texas High School Coaches Association Coaches School last weekend, on clarity involving the future of NIL. Admittedly, he had few answers.

“I just left a room of high school coaches and administrators asking for change,” Sankey said at the conference in Houston. “Our student-athletes, when we gathered our leadership groups, they’ve consistently asked for a uniform standard. So, something’s going to have to change.”

Currently, most states have their own differing NIL laws on the books. Those that have not chosen to make their own laws abide by broad interim guidelines set by the NCAA in the summer of 2021.

Sankey has been outspoken that, barring any federal legislation on the issue, he would like too see all of the states in the SEC footprint band together under a common law. However, recent addendum to state laws, including Texas’ new legislation, that prohibit the NCAA, SEC or any third-party governing bodies from enforcing rules that stand in conflict with language spelled out in state law.

This, Sankey said, further complicates any efforts to make NIL rules streamlined for players and coaches alike.

“Really, when you think about it, it makes no sense,” Sankey said in Houston. “Our presidents and chancellors come together, ultimately, in a voluntary association, to make the rules and policies. And, we don’t have a policy yet. We have state [laws]—and there are multiple states across that country that have done things like this, it’s not simply Texas—that say you can’t engage in that decision making and oversight.”

Furthermore, Sankey mentioned in Houston and again to open SEC Media Days in Nashville that, while states want to reserve the rights to dictate the look of NIL laws within their borders, none yet have provided any punitive guidelines for those who break the law.

“Now we have state saying, ‘Not only are we not enforcing the policies, but nobody else can enforce policies,’” Sankey said in Houston. ‘What I think it actually does is speak to the need for congressional action.”

For schools in Texas, House Bill 2804 gave athletic departments more leeway in involvement with athletes when it comes to helping to facilitate and advise NIL deals, as long as the university doesn’t act as the athlete’s agent.

When asked about this new level of involvement, Texas A&M head football coach Jimbo Fisher emphasized the continued need for streamlining the process.

“From a consistency standpoint, anytime you can get consistency and monitoring, I think it’s a good thing,” Fisher said at SEC Media Days.

At SEC Media Days, Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin railed on the current state of NIL and the transfer portal during his opening statement at the main room podium. Kiffin’s biggest complaints were the free agency system that both have created and the under-the-table pay-for-play that he’s seen creep into the game. Per all state laws and the interim NCAA guidelines, NIL compensation must be quid pro quo.

“So, now, we’ve got professional sports, because that is what we are, what’s been created now,” Kiffin said. “And there’s no caps on what guys can make or what teams payrolls are. So, when this first came out I said, basically whatever programs have the most aggressive boosters with the most money are going to get the players.”

There is, however, the potential for some solutions on the horizon. The NCAA has invited members, athletes and other administrators to Indianapolis for a “stakeholders meeting” to take input on the subject, that could eventually lead to more permanent NCAA rules on NIL, according to reporting by Yahoo’s Ross Dellinger. That would include how the NCAA could punish schools who violate rules regarding NIL, but have state laws on the books that prohibit such punishment.

A&M officials will not be in attendance as no invitation was extended to the university, athletics director Ross Bjork confirmed with The Eagle.

There has also been a bill proposed by a bipartisan group of three U.S. Senators—Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Cory Booker (D-NJ)—to standardize NIL compensation for the entire country.

According to another report by Dellinger, the bill draft would preempt state NIL laws, create an NIL database for transparency and grants the NCAA authority to create and enforce the act. It also gives the NCAA legal protections.

The act does not make any rulings on athlete’s employment status with universities, which is another hot-button topic in college athletics. Sankey said at SEC Media Days that he’s yet to talk to a college athlete that wants to be an employee of the university for which they play.

For Sankey, all of this comes back to providing a healthier environment for athletes and their families that prohibits bad actors from presenting themselves as agents to consolidating the myriad of state and university rules that make the NIL process confusing.

“The reality is, only Congress can fully address the challenges facing college athletics,” Sankey said. “The NCAA cannot fix all of these issues. The courts cannot resolve all of these issues. The states cannot resolve all of these issues, nor can the conferences. Whether congressional action is achievable is a matter of debate—much debate. But educational opportunity, supporting equitable opportunities for men and for women, ensuring the United States success in the Olympic Games, providing medical care, nutritional support, academic support, mental wellness counseling—these are non-partisan issues that deserve a non-partisan solution.”

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