Would name, image and likeness legislation impact Ohio State football recruiting?

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, right, greets Alabama football coach Nick Saban before the national championship game on Jan. 11. Could pending name, image and likeness rules give Alabama an advantage over Ohio State in its pitch to recruits?

When Niraj Antani, a Republican state senator from Miamisburg, announced on Monday the introduction of legislation permitting college athletes in Ohio to profit from the use of their names, images and likenesses, he offered a prediction.

He said the bill, which would go into effect on July 1, would pass.

If proven correct, it could benefit Ohio State’s football program, giving coaches and staff members a selling point in the recruitment of top high school talent.

But what if the effort falters over the next month or is put off by the legislature?

“If Ohio is not able to pass anything, I think schools in Ohio like Ohio State would be at a short-term recruiting disadvantage,” said Mit Winter, an attorney in Kansas City, Missouri, who has studied issues surrounding NIL.

Once the calendar turns to July, at least six other states will begin to allow college athletes to be paid for endorsement deals as part of newly passed NIL laws.

Most are in the South, including Alabama, Florida and Georgia, where the Buckeyes often target some of their top prospects.

But those recruits might be more easily persuaded to sign with schools in their home states without any law in effect in Ohio.   

“Those schools can recruit by saying, 'Hey, we already have a NIL law in place. Once you step onto campus, you're going to be able to enter into NIL deals,’" Winter said. "They can say, 'If you go to Ohio State, you can't do that, at least right now.’”

Last week, Buckeyes athletic director Gene Smith acknowledged his program and others in the state could be left at a competitive disadvantage if similar legislation isn’t enacted.

“If we are standing alone and we do not have NCAA legislation passed, we'll be concerned,” Smith said. “Not just at Ohio State, but for all the schools in the state of Ohio. Obviously we're the flagship, but I'm concerned about all the other schools and student-athletes in this state.

Ohio State hopes that one of its pitches that makes the school attractive to recruits is that they can profit from use of name, image and likeness legislation that allows them to market themselves.

“So we're going to work very hard with the senator to try and make sure that whatever help he needs, we're going to provide that help to him throughout the state.”

The National College Players Association, a players’ right advocacy group, raised some concerns about restrictions in Ohio’s proposed bill, which would prohibit athletes from sponsorship deals that are in conflict with agreements held by the school.

Still, it would open the door for some NIL opportunities and likely be a part of a recruiting pitch.

The looming fragmented environment in college sports is largely the result of inaction by the NCAA.

The college sports governing body was set to approve new rules related to NIL in January, but the vote was postponed. According to USA TODAY, a letter from the Justice Department that raised antitrust concerns prompted the delay.

The NCAA has called for federal legislation that would preempt state laws, and four bills have been introduced in Congress, but none appear likely to pass in time to head off state laws.

Former Ohio State wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez, now a second-term Republican congressman from Ohio’s 16th congressional district, called the path ahead “chaos for college sports” earlier this month.

"It’s going to be messy,” Gonzalez said. “That’s one of the things I’ve been trying to avoid is this state-by-state patchwork and this chaos situation where only a handful of states have name, image and likeness laws on the books.”

Gonzalez, who reintroduced a NIL bill in April, said he did not think Congress would pass legislation by July 1.  

“I think we’re looking more this year, all the way into next year potentially,” he said.

The NCAA could still adopt new rules that would allow athletes to make money from their NIL. It announced last week that the Division I Council is expected to vote on proposed legislation at its June 22-23 meeting.

“Provided it is feasible to do so,” it prefaced in a news release.   

Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, 2017. [Ohio House]

Smith said he has remained “hopeful” the NCAA would pass the measure. He previously co-chaired a working group that offered rules recommendations before a legislative solutions group created some of the framework for adoption.

“I still believe that the legislation that was teed up for a vote in January should have been passed in January,” Smith said. “I still believe that it should be passed.”

If it doesn’t, and if the Buckeyes aren’t able to benefit from legislation in their own state, they might have to preach patience in recruiting.

“NIL is going to happen for every state, or the NCAA is going to change its rules, or a federal law is going to be passed at some point. It's just a question of when,” Winter said. “So Ohio State definitely would be able to say, ‘Don't worry about what Alabama is telling you. If you come here, you're still going to be able to enter into NIL deals at some point soon. We can't tell you if that's going to be July 1. It could be Aug. 1. It could be Sept. 1. But it's something that is going to happen.

"So ignore what they're saying. It's going to be able to happen for you here too at some point soon.’”

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman

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