3 NIL Considerations for Athletic Directors
Updated: Dec 9, 2020
“I think any AD who is thinking about this probably has a long list of concerns and anxieties that exist,”
- Oliver Luck, Altius Sports Partners Advisor, sports business expert, and former Division I athletic director.
The past year has seen rapid developments looking to the future of NCAA name, image, and likeness (NIL) regulations. Altius Sports Partners Advisors Oliver Luck, Jené Elzie, Kenneth Shropshire, and Founding Partner David Carter shared their top three considerations for athletic directors at this stage of the NIL game.
Educate yourself and your department
With the evolution in NIL policies underway, it is crucial for athletic directors to educate themselves on the complexities of these discussions. “The more you know, the better it will be for everyone,” Elzie said. Shropshire added, “Number one: get all the information that you can. Number two: get the best advice that you can. The key to all of this is information and correct advice.” This is especially important for what Luck describes as the new era of collegiate athletics. “College athletics has maintained the values of education, hard work, and teamwork, and now you’re entering into a new era of a partnership with your student-athletes, where student-athletes have opportunities that were completely out of the realm of thought even 20-30 years ago.” Elzie recommends taking the time to understand what the opportunities look like and what they will demand in terms of time and resources. “It’s one thing to have the notion of name, image, and likeness, and it’s another to actually execute it.”
Though many of the logistics of NIL regulations are yet to be determined, this topic cannot slip down an athletic director’s priority list. “When it comes to business, operating in an environment of uncertainty is not sustainable, so recent guidance on NIL, while not complete, at least provides a window into the future,” Carter explained. “This window will enable the NCAA, its member institutions, and their conferences, to more effectively plan.” Luck added that athletic directors, “need to understand how we got to this point. The history is important, and they need to look at all the potential scenarios that exist without knowing for sure what the legislation will look like.”
It is not enough for athletic directors to understand the numerous potential NIL scenarios themselves; they must also ensure their departments and universities are up to speed on these developments. “[NIL] has to be done properly, and that involves literally thousands of people, from athletics administrators, to coaches, to university officials unrelated to athletics who also need to buy into this idea,” Luck noted. He advises athletic directors to evaluate possibilities and spend time with compliance officers and coaches to educate them on what’s at stake. Carter added that, “collaboration must take place by meaningfully engaging both internal and external stakeholder groups across the board. Absent doing so, blind spots and vulnerabilities will remain, limiting an athletic director’s effectiveness.” Ultimately, Elzie pointed out, “those schools and athletic directors who lean in on educating themselves, their staff, and their athletes are going to have an advantage.”
Consider student-athlete time management
Another vital consideration for athletic directors is the pressure that NIL will add to their student-athletes’ already demanding schedules. “For anyone who feels like this is a lot, it is a lot,” said Shropshire. As former student-athletes themselves, Elzie and Luck recognized the increased time management challenges that athletes will face, which athletic directors cannot take lightly. “I think there are significant time-management issues that I’d be worried about as an AD,” Luck acknowledged. “You can’t overstate all that student-athletes already have on their plate,” Elzie commented. Luck expressed similar concerns. “It’s hard to imagine that there’s a lot of free time outside your core activities to spend on running a business representing yourself. Will academics suffer? Will athletics suffer? Is there time to squeeze all this together?” Shropshire agreed that, “you’re not going to be able to do everything. In some ways it’s a wonderful position to be in, to be able to pick and choose what’s really important to you.”
Elzie and Luck agree that athletic directors and their departments have a new responsibility to support their student-athletes, specifically as it relates to time management, amidst these NIL changes. “You have to think about how you can best support the athlete,” Elzie explained. “There’s so much involved with ensuring that protections are in place so that athletes are looked after, and that both the integrity of the athlete and of the athletic department is front and center.”
Embrace the change
Perhaps most important for athletic directors to recognize amid these NIL advancements is that change is inevitable. In fact, the changes are already happening. As a former athletic director, Luck admitted his first step, “would be an attitudinal step to embrace this new era. One may pine for the good old days or not, but that’s really irrelevant. This new era in which a student-athlete has a fundamental right to monetize his or her name, image, and likeness is upon us.”
In Elzie’s perspective, there are two responses for athletic directors in this moment. “You can let the students figure it out for themselves, or you take a role in educating your students about what is happening to them.” These responses are essentially no different than they’d be to any new university initiative. “I don’t see this as different than anything happening in the academic world or any other new policy that comes to the athletic department. It’s about how you can support what’s already happening. You can make a choice to embrace it and support the student-athletes that represent your school, or you can let them figure it out on their own.”