COLUMBIA, Mo. — Less than a year into the name, image and likeness movement in college sports we’re already rewriting the rules of the game — but not everywhere. As NIL collectives build up their war chests of money for recruits and current athletes at their school of choice, new legislation in one Southeastern Conference state adds more playmakers into the process: the coaches and school administrators.
Imagine a world where a college football coach not only has to recruit and coach his players but also become business partners with the third-party collectives shoveling endorsement money to the athletes — all in plain sight and perfectly legal.
That world is called Tennessee.
Last week, Gov. Bill Lee signed an amendment to Tennessee’s NIL state law that allows the schools to have “direct and public relationships” with the collectives that pay their athletes for their NIL, as described by the Knoxville News Sentinel. Under the revised state law, Tennessee Volunteers football coach Josh Heupel — or pick any college coach in the state, like Memphis basketball’s Penny Hardaway or Vanderbilt baseball’s Tim Corbin — can attend and promote NIL fundraising events and host NIL reps on campus to meet with recruits and players. According to the legislative summary, the amendment removes the law’s original provision that coaches and school officials may not be involved in the “development, operation or promotion of a current or prospective intercollegiate athlete’s (NIL)” as long as they don’t “coerce, compel or interfere” in an athlete’s decision to attend their school.
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Translation: Heupel, Hardaway, Corbin and Vols basketball coaches Rick Barnes and Kellie Harper can now develop, operate and promote endorsement deals for a recruit or current athlete. The new law blurs the line between the coaches and the collectives that pay the athletes, essentially turning coaches into their own general managers.
Also, the revised Tennessee law says an athlete’s parents, spouse, siblings, grandparents and legal guardians are not subject to the same requirements of agents who represent the athletes for endorsements. In other words, an agent must be NCAA-certified to negotiate NIL deals on behalf of the athlete but not a parent or older sibling.
“The universities in Tennessee can be more involved in facilitating NIL opportunities for their student-athletes,” Spyre Sports Group CEO James Clawson told the News Sentinel. He helps run one of the industry’s leading collectives with a stated goal of raising more than $25 million per year to pay University of Tennessee athletes for their NIL rights.
“Agencies like ours can have direct communication with the university, and that’s going to create more meaningful conversations on how to best position athletes for NIL opportunities.”
Maybe so, but how many coaches want to spend what little free time they have becoming power brokers for NIL deals? It would be naïve to assume coaches outside Rocky Top don’t already dabble in some NIL discussions, but legally bringing the schools into the process only encourages and, perhaps, mandates that coaches and athletics directors fully engage in the negotiations.
What’s the upshot locally? Not much — for now.
Last summer, Missouri football coach Eli Drinkwitz lobbied hard in Jefferson City for lawmakers to push forward with what became the state’s bipartisan NIL law. But don’t assume there’s an appetite for legislation like the Tennessee law. A quick informal poll of state lawmakers signaled reluctance to go down the same path in Missouri. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who pushed for last year’s state NIL law weren’t aware of the Tennessee amendment. One state representative wondered if this kind of law would become the tipping point that urges Congress to establish federal guardrails to address NIL issues.
Also, don’t assume coaches around the state favor the Tennessee model either, unless this becomes a widespread trend that puts Missouri colleges at a clear competitive disadvantage. If the Tennessee model spreads nationwide, college coaches will need a separate front office to tackle these new responsibilities. Some will surely seek refuge in professional coaching. Or the more established coaches might scoop up their nest egg and waltz into early retirement. See Villanova’s Jay Wright.
Speaking of unexpected departures, the NCAA announced this week that its favorite human piñata, president Mark Emmert, will step down effective July 2023 — or whenever the NCAA hires his replacement. That day can’t come soon enough if you ask campus leaders across the nation, especially those still waiting for Emmert’s organization to carry out sanctions for all those basketball programs swept up in the FBI investigation, most notably the “Kansas City Jayhawks,” as Emmert called the national champions a few weeks ago when he awkwardly handed over the NCAA trophy.
There’s not enough column space to rehash every one of Emmert’s missteps during his 12-year regime — a “reign of error,” as Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde put it perfectly on his podcast this week. But across the nation, athletics directors, school presidents and conference commissioners no doubt raised a toast this week to bid farewell to a leader widely lampooned for his lack of leadership and vision over the years.
Who’s next in line for the big chair? Some will inevitably mention SEC commissioner Greg Sankey. Don’t count on it. He has a better job and already wields more power — real power — from his throne in Birmingham.
This week’s MVTPP (Most Valuable Transfer Portal Player) is Malachi Smith, the Southern Conference player of the year last season at Chattanooga. The 6-foot-4 Belleville native teamed with E.J. Liddell at Belleville West to win the 2018 Illinois state championship. While Liddell starred at Ohio State, Smith became a mid-major revelation this season, averaging 19.9 points, nearly seven rebounds and three assists and shooting 40% from 3-point range. He should have a long list of suitors and could reconnect with his former coach, Lamont Paris, now the head coach at South Carolina.
If you’re following Missouri’s portal prowl, be on the lookout for news from Western Kentucky’s Jamarion Sharp. The 7-foot-5 center led the nation with 4.6 blocks per game this past season and just happened to play for newly hired Mizzou assistant Kyle Smithpeters at John A. Logan College. Sharp hadn’t entered the portal as of Thursday afternoon but has until Sunday before the NCAA deadline.
It’s NFL draft week and did you know Mizzou’s single-season yardage leaders for passing (Chase Daniel), rushing (Devin West) and receiving (Danario Alexander) all went undrafted? Daniel is about to enter his 14th NFL season. A foot injury kept West out of the league, while Alexander caught 83 passes over three NFL seasons. … Missouri associate head basketball coach Charlton Young told a great story on this week’s “Eye on the Tigers” podcast: After winning the 1988 Florida state high school championship as a junior at Carol City High, he told a reporter his dream school was Missouri. “Lee Coward was one of my favorite point guards,” said Young, who instead starred at Georgia Southern. “I always liked the black and gold. Anthony Peeler and Doug Smith, (Derrick) Chievous, I watched all those guys on TV.” Young isn’t the first Carol City alum to arrive at Mizzou. It’s also the alma mater of former Tiger forward Darryl Butterfield. … Former Mizzou ace, Collinsville native and current Red Sox right-hander Tanner Houck has found himself in the crosshairs of the Boston press. Houck is not vaccinated for COVID-19, which means he had to miss his scheduled start Tuesday in Toronto due to Canada’s vaccine requirement. Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaugnhessy has started calling him “Kyrie Houck” in print of late. Ouch. “Just get the shot, big fella,” Shaugnhessy wrote. “You are a professional athlete. You are part of a team. Maybe this would be a time to forgo your ‘personal freedom’ and do what’s good for the team and everyone around you.”