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The four NIL issues that kept popping up at the SEC spring meetings

“To some degree I think we’re living in … a land with no laws.”
The SEC held its spring meetings at the Hilton Sandestin.
The SEC held its spring meetings at the Hilton Sandestin. [ MATT BAKER | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Jun. 4

DESTIN — When Missouri athletic director Desiree Reed-Francois recently asked football coach Eliah Drinkwitz the biggest problem he’s facing, his answer hit on the hot-button topic across the SEC and the rest of the country.

Name, image and likeness (NIL).

“That’s whether it’s with current players, with recruits,” Drinkwitz said. “It’s a factor in every conversation that you’re having.”

Related: SEC, save the Florida Gators vs. Tennessee football rivalry

Including almost every one at the conference’s spring meetings at the Hilton Sandestin. Two days of discussions gave us some insight into the four biggest NIL issues that must be addressed — one way or another — in the coming months and years:

Lack of clarity

This has been the top concern for first-year Gators coach Billy Napier.

“There’s a ton of gray area relative to what you can do, what you can’t do,” Napier said. “There’s no manual. There’s no parameters and no guidelines. To some degree I think we’re living in … a land with no laws.”

Florida Gators coach Billy Napier addresses reporters before the 2022 SEC spring meetings at the Hilton Sandestin.
Florida Gators coach Billy Napier addresses reporters before the 2022 SEC spring meetings at the Hilton Sandestin. [ MATT BAKER | Tampa Bay Times ]

One example: boosters.

Boosters are banned from recruiting, and recent NCAA guidance reminded schools of that point. But third-party collectives — groups of fans who pool their money together to give players NIL deals — are a major part of the marketplace. Florida and Florida State are among the many programs that have collectives.

Related: 3 takeaways on Florida Gators coach Billy Napier’s SEC meetings news conference

“Boosters have never been allowed to be part of this,” LSU coach Brian Kelly said. “Now all of a sudden it’s OK to have a collective? … It just doesn’t make sense to me, really.”

Kelly and Alabama coach Nick Saban both stressed that they want boosters out of recruiting.

Lack of equity

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said his schools didn’t want a patchwork of state laws when NIL first began to look realistic, and they don’t want it now.

“But that’s our reality,” Sankey said.

In April, Tennessee got rid of a part of its law that prohibited schools or employees from being involved in NIL “actions that compensate or cause compensation to be provided to athletes.” Florida, however, still has a similar provision; an amendment to change it stalled during the legislative session.

Schools are mixed on whether that’s a competitive disadvantage. FSU athletic director Michael Alford has said the state “can’t compete” with others because of its regulations, but Gators athletic director Scott Stricklin said he hasn’t seen any issues yet.

Related: Florida ‘can’t compete’ with other states in NIL. Here’s what that means and why it matters

Either way, the fact that state laws could be seen as a competitive disadvantage is unique to NIL, and it probably won’t change unless Congress passes national legislation to level the playing field.

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Lack of transparency

The recent Jimbo Fisher-Nick Saban feud that captivated college football would have been avoided if NIL deals were public, or at least more public than they are right now.

In the NFL, contract information leaks out, and websites track teams’ salary caps. That’s not the case with college players.

“The reality of the NIL space is there’s a lot of rumors and not a lot of disclosure on what’s real vs. what’s not real,” Drinkwitz said.

Related: Eliah Drinkwitz: No beef with former Florida Gators coach Dan Mullen

Kelly presented the scenario of a player saying he had a $1.5 million offer to sign somewhere else. Get on board, or you won’t get the recruit. Except there’s no way Kelly or anyone else can verify that offer beforehand.

LSU coach Brian Kelly meets with reporters during the 2022 SEC spring meetings at the Hilton Sandestin.
LSU coach Brian Kelly meets with reporters during the 2022 SEC spring meetings at the Hilton Sandestin. [ MATT BAKER | Tampa Bay Times ]

“There’s a lot of unknowns,” Gators basketball coach Todd Golden said. “And if you want to make sure that it’s executed properly, I think we could benefit from some regulation and some monitoring and just having a better understanding of how exactly it’s being used.”

Lack of solutions

That was the underlying message in almost every conversation.

“Almost every avenue you go down or every door you open has a trapdoor behind it,” Fisher said.

The easiest fix is to have Congress come up with national NIL legislation.

“None of us should hold our breath,” Stricklin said.

Conferences could come up with their own answers to problems like transparency, but Sankey said state laws “essentially stand in that way.”

Because players can transfer once without sitting out, it’s easy for them to enter the portal and weigh their NIL opportunities elsewhere. But getting rid of the portal seems impossible.

And that left most participants at the SEC’s spring meetings feeling like Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne.

“I don’t know at this point if it can be solved in a few days in Destin,” Bryne said.

If it can be solved at all.

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