As pending legislation works through the Rhode Island General Assembly, the off seasons for NCAA Football and Basketball have drawn further attention to the constantly evolving Name, Image and Likeness (“NIL”) landscape in college sports. A flurry of news surrounding the transfer of players to new schools and announcements on NIL deals has generated heightened scrutiny to the ever-evolving NCAA landscape.
As discussed in this previous post, college athletes are now permitted to be compensated for the use of their NIL. The NCAA’s current policy on NIL states that “Individuals can engage in NIL activities that are consistent with the law of the state where the school is located.” This creates a difficult situation in states like Rhode Island where there is not currently a state law governing NIL on the books. Therefore, individuals seeking to engage in NIL activities consistent with Rhode Island law may not have any significant guidance.
A pending bill in the Rhode Island General Assembly could change that, if passed. Whereas the first version of Rhode Island’s NIL bill never passed after being introduced last year, the same version of the bill, 2022-H6673, was proposed this year, and has already been passed by the Rhode Island House of Representatives. If the Rhode Island Senate passes a version of the bill by the end of its session and the bill is signed into law, Rhode Island will have an NIL law on the books.
This may not be the end of the story for NIL policy in Rhode Island, however. Among college coaches especially, there is a growing push for either the NCAA or the United States Congress to establish a uniform NIL framework. Doing so could impose clearer rules on NIL and limit the impact of NIL on the broader college athletics landscape.
For many longtime coaches, NIL policy is completely uncharted territory. Moreover, since 2018, college coaches have needed to navigate the NCAA’s transfer portal which, broadly, allows student athletes to transfer one time to another four-year NCAA school. Athletes who transfer are eligible to compete immediately. The transfer portal created a de facto free agent system in college sports. Now, pairing the transfer portal with the new rules on NIL has created a situation where, conceivably, athletes could make a decision to transfer schools based purely on which school will off the most lucrative NIL opportunities.
Longtime coaches have become more outspoken about their negative views on the impact of these seismic changes in the NCAA. For example, University of Alabama football coach was recently quoted as saying, on the current landscape: “I don’t think what we’re doing right now is a sustainable model. The concept of [NIL] was for players to be able to use their [NIL] to create opportunities for themselves . . . But that creates a situation where you can basically buy players. You can do it in recruiting.”
Today, it can seem obvious that a college athlete should be able to be compensated for their NIL. However, there is justifiable concern that the combination of the transfer portal and NIL will most significantly benefit the most prestigious programs, who already have an advantage in recruitment, at the expense of mid-tier and smaller programs.
The long-term impacts of these changes to the NCAA landscape will take years to be seen entirely. In the meantime, local players, coaches, and athletic administrations alike should continue to monitor the status of the pending Rhode Island legislation. If the law passes, stakeholders must still monitor any developments related to a uniform framework, which would once again alter NIL rules and policies. Readers are encouraged to contact Daniel Holmander at firstname.lastname@example.org or Patrick Coyne at email@example.com with any questions on the impact that passage of a bill such as 2022-H6673 could have, and how to best prepare accordingly.