MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Until conference realignment raised its head, the biggest topic of the day was Name Image and Likeness.
Of course, in terms of modern college athletics, there always seems to be one subject of major importance dominating the headlines.
Before Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC, it was NIL. Prior to that, it was the Alston Case and before that, it was the one-time transfer with immediate eligibility. It’s a different flavor nearly every week, though certainly each has had, and is having, a huge impact on the NCAA.
The other thing with each is that none are likely to be walked back. Schools – and fans – have to learn to live with conference shifts, more frequent transfers and all the other changes in today’s world.
Previous articles in this series with Shane Lyons
The door – or Pandora’s Box, depending on your perception of the issue – for NIL was opened on July 1, 2021, allowing NCAA student-athletes to profit from their Name, Image and Likeness.
For over a century, college student-athletes were extremely limited in their ability to legally make money through outside endeavors. Then suddenly starting July 1, they were signing endorsement contracts and getting paid for such things as autograph sessions.
Fourteen state legislatures had already passed bills opening up NIL to student-athletes at colleges in those states starting July 1, 2021, and another 12 had laws on the books that would allow profits through NIL.
West Virginia was one of those states that had not yet passed an NIL law, but the NCAA decided shortly before July to allow NIL for everyone – those in a state that passed legislation had to follow those state laws, while schools in states without laws yet in effect could write their own rules.
“There were some misconceptions that because West Virginia didn’t have a state law in regards to Name, Image and Likeness, that put us at a disadvantage. The answer to that was absolutely no,” explained WVU director of athletics Shane Lyons. “As a matter a fact, you can make the point that we’re were in a better spot by not having a state law, because as an institution, we were able to draft our own policy and make changes to that. If we had a state law, if it was too strict compared to other schools, we would have to go back to the state legislature and ask them to amend it.
“What was said by the NCAA was that if you have a state law (in regards to NIL), you follow your state law. If you don’t have a state law, each institution can draft its own policy. They have to publicize that policy, which we have.”
WVU set forth its policy on July 1, and it followed many others in terms of content.
The basics for West Virginia University are:
Student-athletes are expected to refrain from engaging in name, image, and likeness activities that are related to “pay for play,” impermissible inducements, or extra benefits. Impermissible name, image, and likeness activities, include, but are not limited to:
1. Agreements without a quid pro quo (e.g., compensation for work not performed);
2. Agreements where compensation is contingent on initial or continued enrollment at WVU;
3. Agreements where compensation is contingent on specific athletic performance or achievement (e.g., financial incentives based on points scored). Note: Athletic performance may enhance a student-athlete’s name, image, and likeness value but athletic performance may not be the “consideration” for a name, image, and likeness activity;
Benefits provided to student-athletes through name, image, and likeness activities must be consistent with institutional policies of WVU.
Prohibited Promotional Activities
Student-athletes must conduct their activities in adherence to a set of ethical standards that are compatible with those of WVU. These include, but are not limited to honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, and respect for others. WVU in its sole discretion retains the right to disapprove any activity deemed to suggest an endorsement by WVU or that reflects unfavorably upon WVU and/or WVU student-athletes. Specifically, WVU retains the right to disapprove any activity that promotes or otherwise references certain prohibited categories, including, but not limited to:
1. Illegal products or services;
2. Alcohol and tobacco products;
3. Gambling goods and services;
4. Substances on the NCAA Banned Substance List;
5. Activities that conflict with existing WVU exclusive sponsorship arrangements;
6. Sponsorships that conflict with WVU’s exclusive sponsorship entities – a complete list will be provided to the student-athlete upon request;
7. Firearms, explosives, or lethal weapons;
8. Adult entertainment and/or websites including explicit material;
9. Athletic recruiting services;
10. Activities that are, in WVU’s sole judgment, misleading, offensive, or in violation of a statute, law, ordinance, NCAA bylaw, or any University contract obligation.
Use of Institutional Marks
A student-athlete may not use institutional logos and/or trademarks in non-institutional name, image, and likeness activities when a student-athlete is engaging in an activity that promotes or endorses a third-party service or product without written approval by West Virginia University Brand and Trademark Licensing.
Prohibited examples without authorization include, but are not limited to:
1. Wearing apparel or gear that visibly shows a registered WVU logo/trademark;
2. Social media content that includes a registered WVU logo/trademark
The policy delves further into other areas – no missed class time for NIL activities, institutional facilities are not to be used, etc.
For the most part, WVU’s policy mirrors others, and Lyons is comfortable with that policy, though he admitted the uncharted NIL waters also bring concerns.
“I’m all in favor of modernizing our rules and regulations,” stated Lyons in an exclusive interview with the Blue & Gold News. “The thing that is making people anxious is that the things that were originally proposed in regards to Name, Image and Likeness (from the NCAA’s working group) felt like they had some guardrails, some guidelines you could follow. But as time has gone on with the various court rulings, a lot of those guardrails have been removed, and each institution has to operate as they feel is best for it or its state.
“Because we’re in the recruiting business, and we’re all trying to get the best athletes possible, there is the question of trust,” he added. “Maybe we take it this way, but someone else takes it further. That further then becomes the yard marker for where everyone else wants to go. How far does this go without any guidelines or restrictions? But the restrictions also cause more liability and action by attorneys out there who contend we’re violating anti-trust aspects for the student-athlete.”
NIL is a whole new territory, and it’s counter to decades and decades of previous NCAA mandates.
The aspect that makes many uncomfortable now is the fact each state, and in some cases each school, may have different NIL policies. Most have the same basics, but there are at times differences.
The NCAA has found that any limits it tries to place on potential NIL profits will likely end up in court, and as it found out all too well recently, the ruling will probably go against it.
Thus while Name, Image and Likeness is almost certainly here to stay, Lyons’ hope is that the U.S. House and Senate can pass NIL legislation to provide the country with one standardized law.
“I think we’re hitting a happy medium with the new guidelines we’ve set, but we have to continue to work on federal legislation so eventually everyone has the same set of rules,” said WVU’s A.D.
Even with one set of NIL rules, Name, Image and Likeness is certainly a whole new territory.
(This is part of a series of articles with Shane Lyons derived from his exclusive interview with the Blue & Gold News. Further stories covering a wide variety of topics will be published in the future.)