By Hannah Dewey
While the NCAA has stated that high school students may engage in the same types of NIL opportunities available to current student-athletes under its interim policy without impacting their NCAA eligibility, the same might not be true for high school competition.
In fact, engaging in NIL activities as a high school student may render that student ineligible for high school sports, thereby creating more incentives for high school athletes to play club sports or transfer to private schools, instead of playing for their public high school. This possible shift could impact college sports competition, and many have strong views about the importance of participation in high school sports.
In that light, LEAD1 Association (“LEAD1”) hosted its latest webinar on NIL and the impact of high school sports competition. The virtual forum was moderated by Karissa Niehoff, CEO of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), which is the national leader and advocate for high school athletics. The panel also featured Anson Dorrance, Head Women’s Soccer Coach at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and James Parker, Director of Athletics and Student-Activities, at Alexandria City Public Schools, in Virginia. Here are the important takeaways from the panel:
- NFHS has made it clear that NCAA NIL rule changes do not affect current high school student-athletes. In fact, Niehoff kicked off the webinar stating that while NFHS recognizes the talents of high school student-athletes, its member state associations have rules in place that prohibit student-athletes from receiving money that is connected to wearing their school uniform.
- Given that NFHS’s member state associations, which include 51 states and the District of Columbia, prohibit student-athletes from earning NIL compensation connected to high school athletics, it could create a shift in high school athletes transferring to private high schools or participating in more club sports, instead of playing for their high school teams. Indeed, according to Parker, overly restrictive high school NIL rules could create a trend in more high school student-athletes transferring to private schools that don’t restrict NIL opportunities. Dorrance believes that high school student-athletes should be allowed to “monetize their passions,” and that high school associations should find “compromise” so that high school athletes can pursue more entrepreneurial opportunities, aligned with the recent changes at the college level.
- NIL could create opportunities for state high school systems to help student-athletes learn more about entrepreneurship and business at a much earlier age. According to Dorrance, NIL could create more opportunities for entrepreneurs in local communities to help teach high school student-athletes about business. In fact, he believes high school systems should develop more specific curriculum based upon helping students grow their brand. Attending public high school already provides significant social and communal benefits, according to Dorrance, so pairing those values with NIL catered education would be very beneficial for student-athletes. Parker explained that high schools might even be able to help some student-athletes broker NIL deals in their local communities and ensure that the deals are bona fide and compliant with applicable regulations. Of course, this is subject to NFHS member policies, and each state might act differently in terms of their future NIL policies.
- NIL at the high school level could help student-athletes learn to better manage conflict earlier on. A student-athlete’s teammate making more NIL money or getting more media opportunities could create inherent conflict in terms of camaraderie on a high school sports team. But sports are supposed to be a place for students to learn how to better navigate life issues, beyond the playing field, Dorrance said.
- According to Dorrance and Parker, youth athletes should have the same NIL opportunities that college athletes have, particularly for female athletes. It is no secret that those athletes who know how to best brand themselves will have the most NIL success. Starting NIL at the high school level would allow student-athletes, particularly female athletes, to start the learning process in terms of maximizing their future earning potential off the field, while they continue to fight for equal pay (at least professionally) on the field, in professional soccer, for example.
So, while NFHS has made it known that NCAA NIL rule changes do not apply to high school athletes for now, more conversations like these from college sports stakeholders could help shape the future of youth sports, as we continue to move into a new era of sports competition.