If anyone would have a good handle on the ins and outs of the quickly changing Name Image and Likeness landscape in collegiate sports, it would be West Virginia Director of Athletics Shane Lyons. However, even with his involvement at the highest levels of NCAA, as a member of both the Division I Council (he’ll become the chair next month) and the chair of the Division I Football Oversight Committee, he admits that the future of the space, and how college will deal with the student-athletes in their care, remains as foggy as a mountain valley morning. That state of affairs persists, even though it is just days from the July 1 deadline when laws and rules packages governing NIL in six states will go into effect, and quite possibly without an overarching set of guidelines from the NCAA.
That’s not to blame Lyons, though, as he’s worked diligently in several areas to try to bring NCAA rules and policies into a more modern world. And while he’s been toiling on the national level, he’s also charged with making sure the student athletes at West Virginia University are prepared to deal with the many new challenges that NIL will bring those that wear WVU’s Gold & Blue.
While West Virginia doesn’t have a set of public NIL rules in place yet (we likely won’t see anything of that sort until next week at the earliest). Lyons is making sure that WVU has educational pathways and processes in place that will help its student athletes educate themselves in many areas that will touch on NIL and life after their athletic careers.
“Football has probably taken the horse by the reins and is a little bit ahead of the other programs,” said Lyons, noting the WVU’s early team-up with INFLCR (pronounced “influencer”) and its implementation of an in-house 5th Quarter program are providing ways in which to educate the players in a variety of areas, including branding and post-career preparation.
“INFLCR helps build their brands and educate the student athletes on everything they can do to help them maximize their profiles,” Lyons noted. “It’s a mix of online and in-person instruction that helps them build followings. It’s still very much a work in progress as we figure out what will and won’t be allowed to do, but once we have guidelines on what we can do, we will continue to work with the student athletes and coaches and INFLCR, and make any changes that are needed to be made.”
Another big part of that educational process, which also touches on some aspects of NIL, is the 5th Quarter program. Directed by Paige Diggs, who came on board in January of this year, that program is designed to “position the student-athletes for off-the-field success in life beyond graduation.” Segments in leadership, character development, social responsibility and career development are just some of the many areas of that program that will have an impact on NIL opportunities.
“I have asked Paige to be the NIL lead for the department as a whole, and there will be many people involved in that,” Lyons noted. “For example, any compliance issues, or tracking NIL transactions, will be handled by our compliance staff. Again, though, the involvement will be determined by how much was can do with NIL, and once we figure that out, we’ll make adjustments as we move forward.”
The next step in the process is a determination of what student athletes will be allowed to do. It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that schools won’t be able to help their student-athletes develop NIL opportunities or broker deals, but there are still many gray areas. Can a student use a photo of him or herself from competition? Can he or she endorse a product that is a competitor of one that is used by the school? (Think Coke vs. Pepsi or Nike vs. Adidas.) There are many questions left to be addressed.
“The original proposal didn’t allow the schools to be involved at all, and had a number of guardrails preventing a number of items. The new alternative, brought up this week, might be more permissible,” Lyons compared. “What will the guidelines be? I don’t have the answer to that, and we still don’t have it as a group. We had an idea of what we thought our policy would be, but if they make that more flexible we will have to adjust.”
Lyons is an adaptable leader who responds well to changing situations. It’s hard to imagine an AD better positioned to do so than the one that currently holds that post at WVU. For now, he sees education for the student athletes as one of the best things West Virginia can do to set its players up for success with NIL opportunities.
“Some will take hold of it and move forward, but others probably won’t,” Lyons admitted. “We want to give them all the best chance, and the best tools, to develop and take advantage of the opportunities that are out there.”
West Virginia is not one of the states that has passed a NIL law, so if the less restrictive NCAA proposal goes through, WVU will have to come up with its own NIL rules. That’s probably a good thing for Lyons and the school, in that WVU would be positioned to quickly adapt and change its rules as circumstances dictate, rather than having to go back to the Legislature or the NCAA to ask for changes. It could also lean toward having fewer rules in place, thus giving it less to police.
Like many new frontiers, though, it’s not just a matter of not knowing what’s over the horizon. It’s a matter of simply knowing which way to go, which questions to ask, and responding to new developments. Lyons and Diggs, along with individuals in each sport, as well as the compliance office, will all be involved in charting that path forward.
“It’s been an interesting time for college athletics,” Lyons said in perhaps the understatement of the millennium.”We don’t know how far all of this will go, or even what many of the rules will be, but with education for our student-athletes, we hope to prepare them as well as they possibly can be.”