Just days after the NCAA changed rules in June 2021 to let college athletes pick up endorsement deals, a college quarterback at the South announced a sponsorship deal with a beverage company.
Around the same time, another college football player, a wide receiver in the South, signed an endorsement deal with a national retailer.
In both cases, the players were dressed without the university logo in the photos posted to their social media as they promoted the companies.
Not so with another football player – a quarterback at Southwest – who used a new car from the dealership to stand next to one of the dealership’s cars in a photo on his social media page. He wore a polo shirt with his university logo in the photo instead of plain clothes.
The story was similar at another school in the South, where a dealership provided a car for a star basketball player. He also wore his varsity polo shirt in a picture posted on social media to promote the dealership.
Dealerships that traded vehicles for promotion had to engage with not only athletes, but their schools as well.
Photos of athletes dressed with their university logos can give people the impression that colleges — not just athletes — endorse those products. And therein lies the problem.
As an expert on regulatory issues in sport, I have provided education for athletic departments of various colleges on how to deal with the new landscape for college athletes who can now receive paid support. I see a lot of opportunities, but also potential problems.
a question of competition
Since the NCAA allows college athletes to monetize their name, image, and likeness—often abbreviated as “void”—athletic departments have been trying to devise policies to govern the practice. Huh. While many schools were reluctant to allow athletes access to university logos, other schools have been permissive in creating policies that allow easy access to the school’s intellectual property.
These incidents have created a situation where access to university branding can affect where athletes choose to play.
This could result in a shift towards more permissive access to school logos, especially if schools believe that access to their branding for business purposes will attract recruits and enable them to make more money.
However, there is a catch-22 when it comes to NILs. The primary responsibility for formulating NIL policies rests with the schools. For this reason, they are responsible for deciding whether to discipline an athlete for violating the rules, not an organization like the NCAA. A hypothetical question is this: Does a school really want to bench its star quarterback when he appears on Instagram promoting a pizza chain in his school-branded polo, when the school has a sponsorship with a chain competitor? It happens?
While some schools, primarily states that had zero laws with a known effective date of July 1, created programs to educate their athletes about advertising rules, the new rules allowed some schools to put policies on the fly. Quit trying to develop.
As law professor Michael McCann highlighted in a two-week article on the brave new zero world, schools are facing many challenges. He says that among the most widespread is “the use of school marks, logos and other intellectual property in zero deals”.
McCann details the division between schools, with some allowing athletes up to university marks, while others taking a more restrictive approach, fearing that allowing the use of the school’s logo might attract undesirable associations. .
a balancing act
Schools face a balancing act in navigating the new zero landscape. What began as an effort to provide more economic freedom to college athletes evolved into state lawmakers trying to ensure that state schools were not left at a disadvantage in recruitment.
Different colleges allow different things. For example, Clemson University’s NIL policy states: “The use of Clemson’s intellectual property (logos, designs, photos, etc.) for NIL activity is not permitted at this time.” On the other hand, schools such as Syracuse University allow college athletes to license the school logo for their zero activities.
Permissible access to school scores can lead to temporary recruitment benefits, as recruits may be tempted to seek opportunities that allow them to maximize their earning potential during college. For this reason, I think it is possible that schools will need to become more accommodating with their marks in order to be competitive in the hiring process.
The NCAA is hoping Congress will enforce some degree of uniformity on the void, but the law has stalled. Meanwhile, the primary responsibility of controlling NIL activities will be left to the schools.
Due to the nature of college sports, as financially driven, schools may decide to let athletes use their brand for fear that if they do not pass this advantage on to athletes, the next college will be.
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