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NIL Jeopardizes Amateurism in High School Athletics

Updated: Aug 1, 2022

The Supreme Court’s monumental decision to allow college athletes to be paid for their name, image and likeness was historical and completely changed the collegiate sports landscape. It did not stop there as it also trickled down to the high school level.

While the NCAA has for the most part established its NIL rules, high school athletics on the other hand vary from state to state. Currently, nine states permit prep athletes to profit from their NIL: Alaska, California, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York and Utah.

There are 12 states that are listed under the category of under membership consideration, according to opendorse, which keeps track of each state's policies regarding the subject matter.

While most feel that college athletes getting paid was long overdue because of the revenue that the athletes were generating for their schools and the billions of dollars for the NCAA, the NFHS (National Federation of State High School Associations) thinks that this is not the case for high school student athletes, drawing a distinct line between the two.

"Right now, our state association regulations and bylaws are holding firm, that no student-athlete at a member school can become a professional paid student-athlete by virtue of their identity as a student-athlete at their schools," NFHS Chief Executive Officer Karissa Niehoff said, “We want to make it very clear about where the NFHS stands on that. We hope that our position holds, because we really believe that the purpose of high school athletics and performing arts is not to develop professional athletes.”

Although the NFHS has made it abundantly clear that it is against high school athletes benefiting from NIL, it does acknowledge that it happens regardless of their stance on the topic.

"While we recognize that high school age student-athletes have an ability to benefit from name, image and likeness, through contract relationships with a fiduciary, we are very clear that we do not support the situation that would involve another state association school and their student-athletes entering into a professional paid contracts while representing that member school,” Niehoff said.

At the end of the day, there is only so much the NFHS can do to prevent the growth in NIL prominence across the country. There are plenty of schools not affiliated with the NFHS that are profiting from the NIL.

"We know that there are private schools outside of the NFHS membership, where heavy-duty recruiting and really active negotiations with contract agents are taking place,” Niehoff said.

Athletes such as Class of 2023 five-star basketball recruit Mikey Williams are leading the name, image and likeness wave. At the age of 17, he landed a huge multi-year footwear and apparel deal with Puma. The deal marked the first time a high school basketball player in the U.S. signed a sneaker deal with a major sneaker and clothing brand.

Williams has nearly six million followers on various social media platforms including Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter. However, he is one of many young entrepreneurs who took full advantage of their name, image and likeness at a very young age.

Before the passing of the NIL legislature, former Chino Hills HS (CA) basketball player and current Charlotte Hornets All-Star guard LaMelo Ball was faced with the dilemma of being ineligible for NCAA basketball because he was profiting from his signature Big Baller Brand sneaker while still in high school. He instead played overseas in Australia’s National Basketball League in preparation for the 2020 NBA draft.

The high school sports landscape is completely changing in front of our own eyes and will continue to change over time with the rules and state laws being adjusted in favor of the athletes. There is no telling what high school sports might look like down the road with the power, influence and new resources that some of these young athletes might have at their fingertips.

“The high school locker room is arguably the last sort of pure bastion of amateurism within an education-based setting that's supportive and thorough,” Niehoff said. “We want to protect that.”

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