“Are you there with the big boys?” asked a Nevada coach? (Big boy Knute Rockne in the 1920s. Photo credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Policy, politics and progressive commentary
Universities and colleges across the country are navigating the emerging industry of student athletes “name, image and likeness” deals, and Nevada is no exception.
The 2021 Nevada Legislature passed a law prohibiting colleges and sports organizations from preventing student athletes from being compensated for the use of their name, image or likeness (NIL). The bill also required the creation of an interim study committee, which may make recommendations for the 2023 Legislature to consider.
That interim committee met for the third time last month, and student athletes and coaches aired their concerns.
University of Nevada, Las Vegas head football coach Marcus Arroyo said NIL deals affect how prospective athletes and others view a school.
“All our recruits, all our parents, all the conferences. All the conversations (are) around where this will put your school…,” he said. “Are you there with the big boys? Are you a minor league, major league player?”
Arroyo, who has worked in college football for two decades and headed UNLV’s program since late 2019, said he’s concerned NIL deals could affect student athlete recruitment and retention.
“Pro-football recruiting is at the forefront of everything,” Arroyo says. “One thing we (have to) think about everyday (as coaches) is to get the right roster, the right people and the right locker room lineup.”
Arroyo is concerned that the retention of student athletes and rosters have been “jeopardized” with the advent of NIL deals.
But Arroyo acknowledged that NIL deals can help individual players.
“NIL provides advantages when students meet charities and sponsorships,” he said. He believes students choose a particular school on the basis of the networking opportunities that they can have access to . Students can also meet alumni who can help in impacting their social careers and academics outside of the sports they play.
Arroyo said he believes NIL deals should promote team building and harmony by prioritizing group deals that don’t benefit a single principal athlete.
Yvonne Wade, assistant director of internal operations and compliance at the College of Southern Nevada, echoed similar concerns for student athletes at community colleges.
She feels that it is a challenge to recruit and retain students as a part of a community college when NIL deals are provided by schools with elite athletic programs.
“Competing with Power Five schools that can throw out all these perks for student athletes makes it difficult for community colleges to survive,” said Wade. “ It is getting more and more competitive and harder for mid majors, junior college and small programs to exist competing with these Power Five schools.”
Wade believes that boosters and organizations are often luring students with offers but students are still not being compensated enough. She believes colleges and universities have an obligation to regulate and monitor NIL deals from a compliance and institutional standpoint.
“NIL is a good thing,” she said, “but it is important to really monitor what is going on with these collectives” – fans and alumni with heavy financial resources from an array of businesses and donors which generate NIL activities for a school’s student players – “and boosters so that student athletes have a true experience that is not just money based.”
Wade believes that the dollar amount should not be the deciding factor in terms of choosing a school for a college athlete.
“We need to set boundaries and give student athletes guidance on what they can and can’t do, and the collectives on what they can and can’t do, and companies that are funding these initiatives on what they can and can’t do, so that we know how to stay competitive as other big schools like Florida and Arkansas,” she added.
Students athletes feel benefits, want more guidance
College athletes around the country have already begun personally benefiting from their name, image or likeness. Last month, Stanford freshman Rose Zhang signed her first NIL deal as a World No.1 amateur golfer with multinational sportswear giant Adidas.
Here in Nevada, students told lawmakers they have begun exploring NIL possibilities and see a need for more guidance.
Julia Nixon, a track and field athlete at UNLV, signed an NIL deal with Liquid I.V., a Unilever-owned seller of electrolyte drink supplements. The deal provided her access to the more expensive products of the brand that she would typically refrain from purchasing as a student athlete, she said, adding that she often gets sent larger packages that she eventually ends up sharing with her team.
She sees NIL deals as a good resume-boosting opportunity but says navigating the process was “a bit challenging.”
“It is important to educate athletes on rules and things like taxes,” said Nixon. “Going forward as a state it would be nice to have some more specific guidelines as to what is and isn’t allowed.”
Hanah Smrt, a track and field athlete at the University of Nevada, Reno, raised concerns that student athletes are being exploited by companies, which will exchange free merchandise for social media posts but offer no other benefits to the student athletes.
“The issue is we don’t really know what to do, and brands don’t really know what to do either,” Smrt said, “so we are the ones having to take the lead and hope that we are not breaking any rules.”
Smrt added that additional guidance for student athletes would be helpful.
Nevada’s interim committee on NIL is scheduled to meet again for a final time on June 23.
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