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Teel: NCAA must move cautiously as agents, advisors and accountants enter the picture

Teel: NCAA must move cautiously as agents, advisors and accountants enter the picture

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When the NCAA approved cost of attendance allowances for Division I athletes in 2015, many coaches and administrators braced for the worst. Dictated by a federal formula, the amounts vary by school, and skeptics feared the wide disparities would affect recruiting.

Hasn’t happened.

Much the same transpired in 2007 when college sports’ governing body began permitting Division I athletes to hold part-time jobs during the academic year. The outcry then was that schools would engage in “job wars.”

Hasn’t happened.

Now comes anxiety over the NCAA’s coerced embrace of name, image and likeness (NIL) opportunities for athletes. But recalling past apprehensions that proved unfounded, Saint Joseph’s athletic director Jill Bodensteiner is unafraid.

“I’m a total optimist,” she said Wednesday during an Atlantic 10 video conference on NIL. “It’s all going to work out. We’re going to be fine.”

As Bodensteiner concedes, the path to “fine” may be prolonged and messy, and that’s OK. The NCAA, you see, has no choice here but to correct decades of wrongs.

California and Colorado have passed NIL legislation that takes effect Jan. 1, 2023, and more than 30 other states are considering similar bills. To put it in draft parlance, the NCAA is on the clock.

Wednesday’s call, which also included A-10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade and Davidson athletic director Chris Clunie, highlighted some thorny NIL issues. Chief among them were group licensing — that’s a prerequisite for the return of EA Sports’ popular NCAA football and basketball video games — and the certification and monitoring of agents, financial advisors and tax professionals.

McGlade, Clunie and Bodensteiner have keen insights into NIL. McGlade played basketball at North Carolina and coached at Georgia Tech; Clunie played at Davidson and worked for a decade in NBA administration; Bodensteiner is an attorney and served on the working group that crafted the broad NIL outline that the NCAA’s Board of Governors approved last week.

Bodensteiner and Virginia athletic director Carla Williams are part of a “legislative solutions” committee now charged with writing specific proposals for the Division I membership to vote upon in January.

Clunie, who encountered countless agents when he ran the NBA draft combine for three years, is especially intrigued/concerned how the NCAA will address that component of NIL. As well he should be. Like their professional counterparts, high-profile college athletes with significant individual marketing potential will need advisors to filter offers, schedule meetings and provide tax advice.

“There are a lot of good people out there that do things the right way,” Clunie said. “Maybe they’re agents or financial advisors. And there are as many, or more, that are not doing things the right way. So how do you sort of sift through that? … How do you provide the framework for [college athletes] to be successful and not be taken advantage of?”

Agents and other advisors, Clunie added, will “have to be credible, certified and licensed to the highest standard.”

Conferences and schools will educate athletes on the process, but endorsing specific advisors or arranging partnerships could well expose them to legal liability if those relationships splinter.

“I’m more of a deregulator,” Bodensteiner said. “I think if you’re wanting to enter the world of business, that comes with some learning opportunities and it comes with some risks. Welcome to the business world.”

McGlade and her A-10 staff already have started NIL education for administrators and athletes, but she acknowledged that “personal responsibility” will accompany the additional opportunities.

Athletes had better not run afoul of the IRS, she said, “because that will wake them up … quicker than the NCAA enforcement department will.”

The working group’s outline approved by the Board of Governors does not include group licensing as an avenue for athletes to pursue, but Bodensteiner said that doesn’t preclude its eventual inclusion. We can only hope, since after all, group licensing is the root of why we’re here.

In 2009, former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon sued the NCAA, EA Sports and Collegiate Sports Licensing for denying him the ability to profit from his name, image and likeness. EA Sports had used O’Bannon’s likeness in a video game, and in 2013, EA and CLC settled with a class of plaintiffs for $40 million and discontinued the NCAA games.

Federal courts later ruled that some NCAA amateurism rules violate antitrust laws, prompting the rash of recent state legislation that in turn forced NCAA action.

Organizing athletes for group licensing would be complex, but it would also present opportunities for obscure linemen as well as celebrity quarterbacks and receivers.

“Will it be back on the table?” Bodensteiner said of group licensing. “As an athletic director, I hope so. I think there’s some neat and interesting opportunities to showcase our institutions, our conferences and our student-athletes.”

Bodensteiner, McGlade and Clunie envisioned myriad possibilities for athletes, in groups or as individuals. Instructional videos on YouTube; sports camps; pitching local restaurants.

“There is going to be some sense of an equalizer here,” McGlade said, “where your student-athletes from all different conferences and all different schools, whether it’s a small private or a land grant, are going to have the opportunity to take advantage of monetizing their name, image and likeness.”

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