The NCAA has waited nearly a year to issue a warning that there are still rules to follow now that college athletes can make money from fame, sparking speculation a crackdown could be coming for the schools and the boosters that break them.
But the NCAA isn’t the only enforcement organization that has remained silent as millions of dollars have started flying around college athletes.
Nearly half of states, 24 in total, have laws regarding athlete compensation, all passed since 2019. Several specifically prohibit the type of pay-for-play offers and recruiting the NCAA still prohibits and new system worry.
Yet these states have shown no willingness to question or investigate the schools, the contracts, or the third-party groups that orchestrate them. Even if they did, there is little legal framework on how they would do it.
Texas and Florida, two states with large college football and basketball programs, ban fee-for-service contracts and use deals to lure recruits to campus. But neither state has mechanisms in place to investigate or punish a school, organization or agent caught breaking the rules.
“A lot of people point to the NCAA’s inaction, but the same can be said for the states,” said Darren Heitner, an attorney who helped craft Florida’s law.
Unenforced state bans on pay-for-play and recruiting deals have calmed lawmakers who worried the college sports they love would change, said Heitner, an advocate for athletes’ rights to earn money. . But there is no indication that a state attorney general or local prosecutor will sue a major university, coach and wealthy donors if the team brings in the best players and wins.
Alabama was a state that had a specific penalty in its law: Anyone offering compensation to an athlete who had caused them to lose eligibility faced a potential Class C felony, up to 10 years in prison.
But Alabama lawmakers repealed the state’s entire college athlete compensation law earlier this year. The original author of the law called for the repeal because he was concerned that schools in Alabama would be at a recruiting disadvantage compared to rival schools in other states that did not have similar restrictions.
Arkansas gives some legal power to athletes in that state. They can sue their agent or other third party who proposes or implements a deal later deemed inappropriate and they are declared ineligible to play.
Half of the states have no athlete compensation laws. Schools there had to navigate the general parameters provided by the NCAA in June 2021 on the eve of the NIL era and wait to see what would be applied. Payment for salary and ‘inappropriate inducements’ were still not on the table, the NCAA said at the time, but there were few details and NIL deals were struck by the hundreds in the weeks that followed. .
The NCAA has finally returned to its enforcement role with new guidelines aimed at clarifying the types of contracts and recall involvement that should be considered inappropriate.
Few expect a massive crackdown, and the Division I Board of Governors noted it was focused on the future. There are simply too many athletes and too many contracts for the NCAA to enforce, look at them all.
“The application is going to fall on the NCAA, (but) there’s no way they’re trying to review thousands of offers,” said Kansas City, Missouri sports attorney Mit Winter.
The NCAA will more likely look at some of the high-profile deals set up by prominent business owners and third-party collectives that have popped up in dozens of schools to pool millions of dollars and connect athletes to business deals. .
“He’s positioned himself where he has no choice but to try to make an example out of an encore or a collective,” Heitner said. “Otherwise, what good is it? … If not, it’s helpless and obsolete. He always has this problem that he knows he’s going to be sued.
NCAA officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In Texas, the nonprofit organization Horns With Heart raised eyebrows when it announced just before December’s National Football Signing Day that it would be offering all offensive linemen Longhorns scholarships. NIL$50,000 to support charities. Days later, Texas signed one of the best recruiting classes in the nation with a bumper crop of top-notch offensive linemen.
Horns With Heart co-founder Rob Blair was unconcerned by the NCAA’s warning, saying the nonprofit has followed the rules since its launch.
“We realized early in the NIL era that this Old West attitude would eventually lead us to a time like this, which is why we decided to be different,” Blair said in an email. . “We have gone above and beyond to ensure that we are not only following the letter of the NIL regulatory law, but we also believe that we represent the spirit of the NIL laws as written at the origin.”
Along with NCAA law enforcement personnel, university compliance directors — long the watchdogs of athletes and their eligibility — are trying to navigate a changing landscape with murky rules.
Lyla Clerry, Iowa’s associate senior athletic director for compliance, welcomed the NCAA’s renewed guidelines on athlete endorsement contracts if that means they will be enforced.
“Honestly, I don’t know if I have a lot of faith that I’m going to see this happen,” Clerry said, noting that the past year has been “frustrating” for compliance officers.
“You don’t really know, well, what we should enforce, because what is the NCAA going to enforce? So we can’t constantly beat our heads up trying to enforce things that aren’t enforced nationally,” Clerry said. “I don’t know if I would say it works blind, but we’re definitely in the dark.”
AP Sports Writer Eric Olson contributed to this report.
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