Name, image, Iikeness benefits not for high school sports stars ... yet

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Name, image, likeness laws for college athletes went into effect on July 1 and the shockwaves that it sent around the country were immediate.

College athletes began making money — big money in some cases — off their NIL as soon as the calendar flipped to July.

Some players hawked NFTs. Others sold appearances. Alabama quarterback Bryce Young has already landed more than $800,000 in NIL deals, according to ESPN. Florida State quarterback McKenzie Milton put his hourly appearance fee rate at $2,000. Just this week, Miami quarterback D’Eriq King signed a partnership deal with the NHL’s Florida Panthers.

As those headlining deals came fast and furious, there was a notion — an incorrect one — that high school athletes could also cash in on the NIL opportunity. State governing bodies as well as the National Federation of High School Associations, quickly swatted those down.

But how long can those associations continue to fend that off?

High schools often follow the college model, so it only feels like a matter of time before that conversation barrels toward the high school level. In California, high school athletes already have that right. And New York’s Public High School Athletic Association will vote on Oct. 20 to determine if prep athletes there can profit off of their NIL.

Area coaches could see eventually it heading that way.

“It’s probably going to have to [come to high school],” said Bartram Trail coach Darrell Sutherland. “One of the things that’s interesting, like a lot of things where it’s ready, fire, aim, and we just go. There’s going to be a lot that we haven’t thought about.”

Raines coach Donovan Masline said that he doesn’t think NIL as it currently stands is fit for the high school level at this point.

“I doubt it comes to high school [right now],” he said. “I like it for the college kids. They work hard and they put a lot of time into their craft. They make their colleges and universities a lot of money.”

The NFHS is strongly opposed to athletes making NIL money, but that may not hold up for long. It has put out statements in opposition to it several times this year, but that is just a tourniquet. It’s not going away.

If anything, momentum for allowing athletes to profit off of their NIL is intensifying.

California is more of outlier right now, but what about five years from now? There will almost certainly be federal framework in place — the NCAA has asked for it — for NIL at the college level. And if the trickledown effect makes its way to the state government level, high school associations will have no choice but to accommodate it.

Currently, Florida and Georgia high school athletes would have to forfeit their amateur status for a year for receiving NIL benefits.

Mandarin coach Bobby Ramsay said that he fully supports NIL at the college level, but thinks that high school athletes and NIL would be limited to a far smaller window of players.

“I think with a really high profile [high school player], it would probably be, you know, you’re talking top, probably like 20 five-star guys,” Ramsay said. “Like could Derrick [Henry] have had it in high school? Yeah, probably.”

Riverside cornerback Jaheim Singletary is one of those players in that upper echelon of prospects who could benefit from NIL — even in high school.

“I really think it’s a good thing, It helps provide for people’s family. A lot of people be needing it,” Singletary said. “It’s opportunity for everybody. And everybody needs opportunity to make money to explore, make money off their self. I think it’s a good thing.”

Local attorney Malik S. Jackson of the Smith Hulsey & Busey law firm has been studying the new law since DeSantis signed it last year. He said, like anything, it comes with quite a bit of room for interpretation because of the newness of it. And the NIL making its way high school athletics goes against the premise of sports at that level.

“That’s different than our K through 12 understanding of interscholastic athletics, it’s not supposed to be tainted by money, not yet,” he said.

NIL language differs from state to state and there’s still loopholes that need to be addressed.

Jackson brought up several scenarios involving NIL, including when does that high school student become an intercollegiate athlete?

“You have a top athlete, signs on the first signing day, he’s a football player, signs on the first signing day before the year’s out,” Jackson said.

“He still has basketball season and track season, when that student-athlete signs that national letter of intent, the NLI, is that student-athlete a participant in an intercollegiate athletic program? We don’t have the answer to that. There will need to be some sort of legislative fix to define when intercollegiate athletic participation begins.”

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.