Sticking the Landing: Considerations for College Athletics Stakeholders Implementing Recent NCAA Rule Changes

May 31, 2024

By Traci Bransford and Lexi Trumble, of Parker Poe

The ever-evolving collegiate athletics landscape experienced yet another seismic shift in April 2024 when the NCAA Division I Board of Directors ratified two rule change proposals from the Division I Council. that grant student-athletes two massive wins: increased flexibility to transfer schools and retain immediate eligibility and, second, access to additional institutional support and assistance with name, image, and likeness (NIL) activities.

These changes come in the wake of significant litigation battles, targeted legislative efforts, and passionate national discourse surrounding the current and future state of college sports. Effective immediately, the changes require careful consideration by student-athletes, athletics administrators, and third parties alike to avoid potentially catastrophic legal pitfalls.

Institutional NIL Support: A Play by Play

Much like a dominant offense’s shots on goal, NIL developments just keep coming following the implementation of the NCAA’s interim policy in July 2021. This recent news permits institutions to increase NIL-related support for student-athletes, including by identify NIL opportunities and facilitate deals between student-athletes and third parties.

In order to receive that school support for their NIL activities, however, student-athletes are required to disclose to their school information related to NIL activities equal to or exceeding $600 in value, no later than 30 days after entering or signing the NIL agreement. Student-athletes’ receipt of this increased institutional support is contingent upon their disclosure of information regarding their NIL activities, including applicable parties’ contact information, services rendered, term length, compensation, and payment structure. Prospective student-athletes will be required to disclose the same information for pre-enrollment NIL activity within 30 days of enrollment to accept school assistance in NIL activities after becoming a student-athlete. The NCAA clarified that student-athletes are not obligated to accept assistance from the school and that they must maintain authority over the terms in their own NIL agreements.

Important guardrails still surround NIL activity. Critically, the NCAA stated explicitly that existing prohibitions against outright pay-for-play and schools compensating student-athletes directly for use of their NIL will remain in place.

The NCAA contends that those prohibitions remain in effect even though NCAA President Charlie Baker announced in March that enforcement staff would “pause and not begin investigations” related to certain categories of NIL infractions. Reconciling that enforcement suspension with the NCAA’s stated caveats to permitted NIL activity expansion will require colleges and universities to carefully consider conflicting authority from the NCAA, federal courts, and state legislatures.

Of note to athletics administrators and compliance staff, suspension of the NCAA’s investigative and enforcement actions related to “inducement” activities does not preclude the NCAA from continuing or commencing investigations related to other guardrails, such as those that state NIL deals must include quid pro quo, compensation cannot be conditioned on performance, and schools cannot pay players directly. Recent legislative efforts, however, including Virginia’s modification of NIL laws to allow schools to bring NIL operations in-house and directly compensate student-athletes for the use of their NIL and North Carolina’s rescission of its Executive Order guiding NIL compensation, undoubtedly create inconsistent state-by-state and institution-by-institution policies and procedures.

Compliance with federal statutes, including Title IX, remains paramount as schools adjust to recent developments. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in any federally funded education program or activity and requires gender equity in 13 different athletics program areas. Institutional support for or facilitation of NIL activities may implicate at least two of those Title IX program areas — athletic financial assistance and publicity.

With respect to athletic financial assistance, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has declared in guidance documents related to athletic scholarships and cost of attendance that “athletic financial assistance includes any financial assistance expenditures through the institution’s athletics program and any other aid that is connected to a student’s athletic participation.” Direct compensation of student-athletes for NIL activities flowing from an education institution may effectively double schools’ budgets for such NIL payments: Title IX may require the school to make equivalent benefits proportionately available to male and female athletes.

The requirement to equitably provide male and female student-athletes with publicity resources is also likely triggered when institutions exercise greater control over NIL activities. Schools are required to expend equitable efforts to publicize male and female athletes, and permission to offer increased “assistance in supporting [NIL] activities” granted by the NCAA in May does not relieve institutions of that gender equity mandate.

Institutions should engage experienced legal counsel to advise coaches, athletics administrators, compliance staff, and other athletics stakeholders on the complex regulatory and statutory schemes governing NIL activities. As the NCAA and state legislatures continue to move the chains with respect to “permissible” NIL activities, Title IX remains a pivotal piece of civil rights law and requires schools to promote aggregate gender equity.

Transfer Athletes’ Eligibility: Out of the Penalty Box

Effective immediately, Division I student-athletes who transfer will be immediately eligible to play at their next school, regardless of whether they transferred previously — as long as they meet certain academic eligibility requirements. Under the new guidelines, transfers must have left their previous school in good standing (not subject to disciplinary suspension or dismissal) while academically eligible and will have to meet progress-toward-degree requirements at their new school in order to receive immediate eligibility. Student-athletes are expected to enter the transfer portal within their sport’s notification-of-transfer windows (except in the case of departure of a head coach or discontinuation of a sport), and athletes are not able to transfer mid-year and play for a new school in the same athletic season. Division II leadership passed similar legislation eliminating year-in-residence requirements and implementing new academic standards for immediate eligibility.

The revision of the transfer eligibility rules intersects with changes to permissible NIL activities in that schools must now contend with NIL discussions related not only to attendance at a particular institution but now also related to retention. As student-athletes consider significantly expanded enrollment options for their collegiate athletics career, schools should remain mindful of rules restricting (or permitting) NIL opportunities related to recruitment and retention.

Conclusion: Reviewing the NCAA’s Game Film

Recent rule changes for Divisions I and II represent the continuation of shifting attitudes toward and regulation of collegiate athletics nationwide. Consultation with experienced legal counsel is critical as colleges and universities grapple with implementing recent developments and avoid potentially costly legal landmines.

Particularly for institutions that elect to bring NIL activities in-house, athletics budget line items related to those NIL activities may increase exponentially, resulting in a financial flag on the play as such transactions constitute permissible enrollment or transfer inducements and as Title IX requires aggregate gender equity.

Traci Bransford is a partner in Parker Poe’s Atlanta office and leads the firm’s Sports & Entertainment Industry Team. She can be reached at

Lexi Trumble is an associate attorney in Atlanta and focuses her practice on advising colleges and universities on a range of complex compliance issues, with a particular focus on how Title IX impacts gender equity and college athletics. She can be reached at

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