New NCAA NIL Guidelines Seek to Limit Boosters

College sports boosters are prohibited from recruiting, but a loophole allowed them to create collectives to pool donations funding name, image, and likeness deals for recruits.
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  • New guidelines expand the definition of a booster so that collectives are subject to the same restrictions as individual boosters.
  • The NCAA also acknowledged that more work must be done to refine the NIL policy.
  • Some booster collectives say they don't foresee the new guidelines changing the way they do business.

The NCAA on Monday took the first steps to crack down on booster-led collectives that use name, image, and likeness (NIL) deals to recruit high school athletes and transfer students to their schools.

A booster is "a representative of the institution's athletic interests," according to the NCAA, and includes anyone who donates time or money to a school's athletes or athletic department.

The new guidelines issued by the NCAA Division I Board of Directors clarify existing bylaws that prohibit boosters from being involved in recruiting.

NCAA bylaws prohibit boosters from participating in the direct recruitment of athletes. The organization's interim name, image, and likeness policy also states that NIL deals cannot pay a player directly to attend or play for a school. But some boosters found a loophole in the policy by creating collectives to pool donations to fund NIL deals for athletes.

At the University of Florida, for example, booster Hugh Hathcock donated $3 million to a NIL collective for the school's athletes called Gator Guard. At the University of Texas there's the Horns with Heart collective, which provides $50,000 to every scholarship offensive lineman on the roster who participates in a charity.

More than a dozen booster collectives have been formed nationwide since the interim NIL policy went into effect on July 1, 2021.

“More than a dozen booster collectives have been formed nationwide since the interim NIL policy went into effect on July 1, 2021.”

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The NCAA's guidelines expand the definition of a booster to make it clear that collectives are subject to the same restrictions that prevent individual boosters from recruiting and/or providing benefits to prospective student-athletes.

A booster is now defined as any third-party entity "that promotes an athletics program, assists with recruiting or assists with providing benefits to recruits, enrolled student-athletes or their family members," the new guidelines state.

"Today, the Division I Board of Directors took a significant first step to address some of the challenges and improper behaviors that exist in the name, image and likeness environment that may violate our long-established recruiting rules," the NCAA said in its news release announcing the new guidelines.

Board members also acknowledged that more work must be done to refine the NIL policy, which has spawned a rash of deals and transfers, drawing criticism from coaches. But there are also those who embrace the current situation.

Prior to the new booster guidelines' release, sports agent Russell White told The Athletic that he was unconcerned about the NCAA's effort to regulate NIL deals.

"I think it's adorable that the NCAA is acting as if they're going to crack down on anything," said White, whose Utah-based firm Oncoor Athlete Marketing represents about 80 college athletes.

The NCAA said that it continues to support the ability of athletes to market themselves and that the guidelines are "not intended to question the eligibility of prospective and enrolled student-athletes involved in NIL deals."

But at the same time, the Board of Directors called upon the NCAA's enforcement unit to investigate individual NIL cases and take action against those who have committed "the most severe violations." The board also reminded schools that they have an obligation to self-report any potential violations to the NCAA.

"The new guidance establishes a common set of expectations for the Division I institutions moving forward, and the board expects all Division I institutions to follow our recruiting rules and operate within these reasonable expectations," said board chair Jere Morehead, University of Georgia president.

Attorney Mike Caspino, who represents several football recruits that have landed NIL deals, foreshadowed what may possibly lie ahead for the NCAA and some athletes if and when investigations move forward.

"The moment they come to try to interfere with one of my clients' deals — the next day is the moment they get hit with an antitrust lawsuit," Caspino told The Athletic.

“The NCAA's business model would be flatly illegal in almost any other industry in America.”

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The future could, indeed, be tricky for the NCAA as it seeks to police NIL deals. In last year's U.S. Supreme Court antitrust decision that forced the NCAA to change its policy on athlete compensation, Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in a concurring opinion that the "NCAA's business model would be flatly illegal in almost any other industry in America."

The effect of the new guidelines remains to be seen. But Tyler Weber, who co-founded Wichita State University's NIL collective, Armchair Strategies, told the Wichita Eagle newspaper that he doesn't foresee any change in the way his collective does business. Weber said his collective is focused on taking care of the current WSU student-athletes and has not been involved in recruiting athletes.

"We have always been focused on helping Wichita State student-athletes first and foremost," Weber told the Wichita Eagle. "Our goal is to create an avenue for Wichita State student-athletes to make positive contributions to our local communities, while receiving compensation and growing their respective brands."