NCAA aims to crack down on boosters who disguise ‘pay to play’ as name, image and likeness payments

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – In the coming weeks, the NCAA plans to crack down on sponsors who fund name, image and likeness payments to athletes — payments the association says are violations of longstanding NCAA rules. NCAA Council Chairman Shane Lyons told CBS Sports that the association’s governing body is motivated to push back on what is becoming a growing disguised “pay-per-play” scandal in college athletics.

“How are you having conversations [with athletes]? They are movers and shakers,” Lyons said Tuesday during Fiesta Summit, a series of conference spring meetings. “We have never allowed boosters to get involved in the recruitment process. Where did it go off the rails? … The groups are promoters”.

Those collectives, of which some estimate there may be more than 100, arose as an unintended consequence of what has essentially become uncontrolled NIL profits. The bosses of some of the larger collectives are well known to both coaches and administrators.

John Ruiz Jr. is a billionaire alumnus who runs a University of Miami collective and has become the face of the NIL collective problem. he’s also a lawyer, the son of Cuban immigrants who came to Miami when its soccer dynasty took shape in the 1980s.

“My platform is very consistent with all NCAA rules and state law,” Ruiz told CBS Sports. “We probably have a stronger enforcement system than the schools or the NCAA itself. I feel extremely comfortable. This is totally kosher. We have legitimate businesses.”

Ruiz has not heard from the NCAA about his NIL sponsorships since he launched his collective earlier this year.

Under NCAA rules, boosters cannot pay players directly or be part of a college’s recruiting process. The NCAA defines boosters as “representatives of a school’s athletic interests.” That definition is extended to supporters who have made contributions to a school’s athletic department, arranged for the employment of athletes, and/or helped provide benefits to athletes or their families.

Once a person is designated as such a representative, they “retain that identity forever,” according to the NCAA. In the past, the NCAA has used a broad interpretation of that definition to penalize schools.

The potential legal problem for the NCAA’s actions would be to define an “enforcement” in this highly litigious environment.

“I’m an experienced attorney. I do high-level litigation,” Ruiz said ominously. “What would happen in a court of law if someone questioned what we would do? We actually demand work for pay.”

Ruiz’s involvement in paying athletes to promote their companies through social media and video could be a test case for the NCAA if it decides to take on NIL after months of inaction. NCAA rules, and some state laws, require an athlete to perform some task or action other than playing football in exchange for compensation from the athlete.

“The Guide [from the NCAA] is, ‘You’re breaking the rules because the rules haven’t changed,'” said Lyons, who is also West Virginia’s athletic director.

WVU athletes currently benefit from the Country Roads Trust, a collective run by former Mountaineers AD Oliver Luck and Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick.

Collectives are third-party entities that develop financial opportunities for college athletes. They have emerged as NIL brokers of varying levels of sophistication. They may be part of a larger business such as a for-profit or non-profit entity. In the vast majority of cases, there can be no relationship with a school. Of course, some collectives are spearheaded by well-healed alumni who have no problem saying they’re interested in seeing the good old State U thrive.

A rules subcommittee of the NCAA Transformation Committee is currently reviewing some of these issues. A two-year study by a committee to regulate NIL was basically ignored by the NCAA last year amid fears of legal liability.

Since NIL debuted on July 1, 2021, the nine months that followed have lived up to predictions that the recruiting landscape became the Wild West.

“I think NIL would have been infinitely better off if we had implemented the dozen or so railings that we had,” said Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, a member of that original NIL committee. “There was clear language around incentives for initial enrollment and transfers, which are obviously being widely hyped right now.”

Lyons added: “I think you’ll see something in the next few weeks that, before too long, will provide some of that message to members. ‘Here’s the guide [for NIL].'”

Any rejection by the NCAA would require the association’s enforcement arm to take swift action. Until now, he has stayed on the sidelines as NIL has tended towards direct incentives and pay-per-play.

The NIL discussion turned into a rumble last week when Miami basketball player Isaiah Wong’s NIL agent demanded more money after Nigel Pack, transferred to Kansas State, was awarded a two-year, $800,000 contract from the collective. of Ruiz. Reports that Pittsburgh’s star wide receiver Jordan Addison is considering a trade to USC, allegedly being approached with a NIL offer from a Trojans collective even before he was on the transfer portal, has dominated conversations online. spring meetings.

“That is [NCAA] Board of Governors tell the Jon Duncans of the world that what’s going on out there is not right,” Lyons said.

Duncan is the director of compliance for the NCAA.

“Some coaches call me and say, ‘I don’t know what to do with this booster because you’re offering all these NIL kids money and I don’t even want the kid,'” shared Todd Berry, executive director of the American Football Coaches Association. . “This was all predictable… It’s coming to fruition right now.”

A high-profile trainer at the Fiesta Summit said that recruiting discussions with recruits these days begin with NIL possibilities. A basketball coach told the story of a mid-level coach who was contacted by an agent.

“Two hundred thousand dollars [in] 48 hours or my boy is in the portal”, recalled the coach while recounting the context of the conversation.

One coach likened the current uproar over NIL to “cost of attendance on steroids.” Cost-of-attendance payments were implemented in 2015 to ensure that athletes could more adequately cover the true cost of attending college. Those payments generally range from $2,000 to $5,000 each school year.

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