It’s a $ign of the times.
Nearly two decades ago, a student-athlete with a promising future was stripped of his eligibility late in his senior season by the Ohio High School Athletic Association because he accepted a couple of retro sports jerseys worth $845 as gifts.
Now, that same organization’s member schools will vote on a proposal that will allow student-athletes to cash in on their name, image and likeness, commonly referred to NIL.
You might have heard of NIL. It’s already in place at the college level and it allows players to sign endorsement agreements that can total hundreds of thousands of dollars, and perhaps even millions of dollars, depending on a player’s talent level and popularity.
Perhaps if the NIL was in place back in February 2003, LeBron James wouldn’t have been bounced by the OHSAA and he would have led Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary to yet another state basketball title.
Times have definitely changed.
Now, the NIL has filtered down to the high school level. While Ohio is ready to vote on the issue, eight states already permit student-athletes to have NIL rights: Louisiana, California, Utah, New York, Nebraska, New Jersey, Alaska and Kansas.
Ohio is just one of about 15 states considering allowing NIL payouts. South Carolina is not on the list – for now.
Charleston native Jerome Singleton is the commissioner of the High School League, the governing body of high school sports in the Palmetto State. He said the organization’s Executive Committee has discussed NIL, but has decided to not allow “pay for play.” He added the state’s legislature has not weighed in on the issue.
“We feel a student-athlete can’t play for pay,” Singleton said. “That is spelled out in our rules.”
Singleton said the controversial topic must be studied more, and that it is a complicated issue.
“For example, what if Michael Jackson had played sports in high school? Would that have prohibited him from making money as a singer? Would it prohibit a student-athlete who plays sports from making money if they were a talented artist? There are a lot of unknowns.”
One thing is known for sure. It has already changed college sports, and perhaps not in a good way. Overzealous alumni can give student-athletes money that is limited only by the number of digits in their check book.
Quinn Ewers is a good case study. He’s a Texas native who was the top high school quarterback in the country heading into his senior season in 2020. He couldn’t receive NIL money as a high school star because Texas does not allow NIL money. So Ewers skipped his
senior season and enrolled at The Ohio State University. He signed a $1.4 million NIL deal. However, he entered the transfer portal after sitting the bench and ended up in Austin as a member of the Longhorns. Some observers feel he might end up with another seven- or eight-figure NIL deal.
High School athletes can’t receive NIL money from entities that are contrary to core values of higher education, such as gambling, drinking and smoking. Still, there is money to be made.
Bishop England athletic director Paul Runey has been around long enough to know that most high school student-athletes dream of playing professional sports. Then reality sets in.
Runey is against NIL money.
“It can disrupt a team’s unity and harmony,” Runey said. “What happens if a high school quarterback gets NIL money and the blind-side tackle does not. What if that tackle thinks he deserves money because he feels he’s responsible for the quarterback’s success? Does he intentionally miss a block to prove his point? It could cause jealousy and envy.”