High school athletes in Massachusetts and across the country should stick to their PPG stats, SAT scores, and OMG emojis because NIL looks DOA at secondary schools.
“Our 51 member associations have bylaws in place that protect amateurism, that don’t allow for kids to be paid for their identity as a high school athlete wearing that high school jersey. We want to protect that, we do not want kids to be benefitting from name, image, and likeness as it pertains to their student-athlete identity,” said Karissa Niehoff, executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations , on Monday.
Niehoff’s comments in a webinar came less than two weeks after the NCAA reluctantly permitted college student athletes the right to monetize their positions as local celebrities and athletic department revenue sources.
Most state legislatures, including Massachusetts, have yet to lay out NIL regulations, but going forward they are probably well aware that high schools wish to be left out of the picture.
“At this point we are still following the stance of amateurism, and specifically with the [Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association], we do have a rule of governance surrounding amateurism and the fact that student athletes are not to be paid for their participation,” said MIAA director of communications Tara Bennett. “[The NFHS] is definitely a separate entity than the NCAA, and at this point my understanding is that there is no movement toward anything along this line from a high school level.”
The competitive athletic scene at college campuses is culled from the top high school athletes, but as Niehoff pointed out, “well over 95 percent of our high school student athletes will not enter into the collegiate competitive experience.”
And because they’re not, the NFHS does not want professionalism to bleed into games, locker rooms, and pep rallies.
Many elite high school athletes compete at the club or AAU level and are already on the recruitment radar of colleges, not to mention shoe companies and agents. Especially without state guidance, a federation such as NFHS is likely powerless to stop its best high school athletes from entering into an NIL arrangement if they do so when they compete in a non-scholastic setting.
But “there could be a mess” concerning their eligibility to also compete for their high schools, said Niehoff.
High schools already follow recruitment guidelines from the NCAA. Both colleges and high schools should fear, said Niehoff, an NIL deal leaking into an illegal pay-to-recruit scenario where, say, a shoe company could steer an athlete toward a college program that has a deal with that shoe company.
The NFHS “does not have its head in the sand,” said Niehoff, when it comes to the nuances and shades of green-tinted gray when it comes to high school talents mingling with shoe and apparel companies and agents.
“We don’t want that small few to disrupt the culture and chemistry of the [high school] locker room,” said Niehoff. “If those elite kids that can play somewhere to enhance their elite status and get them into the D1 locker rooms and in front of the right coaches, potentially play semi-pro before they enter college, there’s a pathway for those kids. The reality is it’s already happening. We are trying to protect the environment that is ours and the rest of the population and the high school sports unique landscape that it is.
“There would need to be a very clear separation, the high school young person cannot in any way, shape or form bring a professional identity to the high school environment.”
The MIAA Handbook already addresses amateurism and how to forfeit it by, for example, “capitalizing on athletic fame by receiving money or gifts of monetary value,” competing for money or “signing a professional playing contract in that sport.” The handbook is being revised, but that language is staying, said Bennett.
It remains to be seen how and if MIAA directly addresses NIL — it should be near the top of the to-do list for the next executive director, expected to be named in the coming weeks — but the topic is not likely to disappear completely and could evolve in ways still unknown.
“We can certainly appreciate the interest people have and what people think or may believe the impact could be at the high school level,” said Bennett. “I would say at this point we don’t have anything in the immediate future, but that’s not to say maybe four, five years down the road something might change as well. As you know, with the NCAA, it did take a few years to get things up and moving, and who knows if something will dribble down to the high school level. But at this point that’s not the intent.”