CLEVELAND — Changes could be coming next month for Ohio high school athletes, when principals vote on new bylaws to allow the athletes to profit off their popularity.
The Ohio High School Athletic Association referendum on name, image and likeness, or NIL as it’s called, comes less than a year after college athletes got the opportunity.
“I think things trickle down from the NCAA and it spurred some interest, uh, not just with our member schools, but mostly with our student athletes and their families,” said OHSAA Executive Director Doug Ute.
Ute says in the next two weeks, 817 member school principals will vote on the proposed changes. The new bylaw would allow these deals, so long as students are not representing their teams and schools. Any contracts must be disclosed. There’s no casinos, gambling, alcohol, drugs or tobacco involved, and students cannot advertise during or be paid for any official team activity. This is not pay to play, Ute says. And existing bylaws around recruiting remain.
“This is just an attempt to say let's bring our bylaws up to date,” Ute said. “And keep the protection of amateurism and high school sports, but also allow for those students to make money.”
“It was gonna happen. It was just a matter, I think of when and how,” said Spire Academy President Jeffrey Orloff. Spire is not a member of OHSAA, but will be watching closely to see how this unfolds.
Ohio is one of a dozen states considering similar measures, and eight states already allow it.
“Certainly the one thing you want to make of is that kids are not getting taken advantage of. And in most cases, how would a parent who's not in this business or who is not of a legal mind really fully understand it? You don't want to sign something, that's going to end up creating some issues down the road,” said Orloff.
Many of these opportunities are those offered to social media influencers, new opportunities in a new world. Nearly everyone acknowledges this is likely only to be relevant or impact a very small handful of high school stars. NIL deals have impacted an estimated one percent of all NCAA athletes so far.
“If you get too concerned with name, image and lightness deals and Twitter accounts, then you know, how concerned are you with your grades? How concerned are you with mastering your craft?” said Canton McKinley Athletic Director and football coach Antonio Hall.
Hall himself was a college athlete at the University of Kentucky, and says he could have built a nest egg off NIL deals if they existed at the time.
“My biggest piece of advice would be keep the main thing, the main thing. Everything that comes with it is great, but let's not lose focus on the big picture,” he said.
As a parent and coach, he's skittish - mostly for his students. But also for the workload this could create for schools. “Who knows where it's going to end up at the high school level? But definitely athletic directors are going to be busy for the next few years,” he said.
OHSAA has held meetings in each of its districts over the 14 referendum items that open to voting May 1, continuing through May 16. If it passes, it goes into effect the same day. If it doesn’t, this likely isn’t over.
“It's coming. So, you know, I've already made up in my mind that I'm going have to deal with it,” said Hall.