The NCAA’s new buzzword is "guardrails," which, translated, means the organization that runs college sports hopes to keep amateur status from straying too far into professionalism.


Good luck with that. The NCAA is hugging the center line of a narrow outcropping of mountain pavement, protected from 500 feet of free-fall by a sliver of steel ribbon. The metal offers an uneasy sense of security, until the rail disappears around the next bend.


Those safety gaps are the danger zones facing the NCAA as it navigates through its decision to allow athletes to make money off their name, image and likeness (NIL).


Moving forward with NIL is the right thing to do, but it will not be clean or easy. Even with guardrails, at times it will resemble a 1970s detective show where the car plunges over the cliff and explodes in flames.


Too many challenges exist to mention them all, but among the more obvious:


· Dear recruit, nothing to see here. NCAA president Mark Emmert cautions that NIL regulations involving compensation is wet cement until the Board of Governors’ recommendations are adopted by January, but one pillar of policing already is concrete: Endorsement opportunities cannot serve as inducements for recruits.


Really? Try stopping it. A four-star recruit from Pittsburgh is choosing between Washington State and Washington. One is located in Pullman, the other in Seattle. Given the size and scale of the two cities, which school offers more endorsement opportunities, and thus a potential competitive advantage?


Or compare Ohio State with Indiana. It’s a case of the rich getting richer. The Buckeyes already hold a recruiting advantage with post-career job opportunities based on Columbus’ size and resources. Add NIL to the mix and the advantage extends to potentially lucrative in-school employment opportunities. I see nothing wrong with that, but I’m not the NCAA.


Neither is Darren Heitner, a Florida sports attorney involved in crafting Florida’s Student Athlete Achievement Act, which extends NIL rights to Florida college athletes. It is expected to be signed into law and take effect in July 2021 and is the kind of piecemeal legislation Emmert wants to avoid, which explains why the NCAA is seeking the help of Congress to establish NIL federal guidelines.


"We don’t want this used as a recruitment effort for athletes, but once enrolled he or she can procure opportunities and negotiate them," Heitner said of the Florida legislation. "Will it be an attraction if Florida provides NIL rights and other states don’t? Absolutely. Will it create competitive advantages? Yes. But do those already exist? Absolutely."


* Top-level players will collect the most NIL income. A free-market economy works fairly well in professional sports, but are college athletes mature enough to handle it, especially with agents telling them they deserve more money?


* How will NIL impact media coverage? Media outlets could attempt to gain favor with athletes by paying for exclusive interviews. The line between objective and subjective fanboy journalism already is blurred. ESPN and other networks already pay for access to players and coaches. I think readers, viewers and listeners should care if cozy relationships reach the local level.


Heitner disagrees, as long as deals are done in the open.


"I don’t have a problem with athletes exploring opportunities to benefit from name, image and likeness, as long as it’s transparent," he said.


How to install guardrails for that? Maybe the better question is, do you need such protections? Coaches get paid for their shows. Why not players? Another thought: Can athletes refuse interviews that don’t pay?


"That will be a category the legislative solutions group will address," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said. "Interviews pre- and post-contest will be part of their (unpaid) role as a member of the team. Outside of that, TBD. However, interviews contribute to her or his brand development, so they will want to do it from a business point of view."


I can see it now: "This exclusive interview with Garrett Wilson is brought to you by Scarlet and Gray Chevy Trucks, for those who live without guardrails."


Welcome to a brave new world. Some will want to avoid looking down.


roller@dispatch.com


@rollerCD