States remain quiet on pay-for-play violations

Many states restrict or ban pay-per-play contracts for sports students, but there is little legal framework for investigating schools that violate the guidelines.

But the NCAA is not the only organization that has remained silent as millions of dollars have begun to fly around college athletes.

However, those states have shown no desire to question or investigate the schools, contracts, or groups of third parties that orchestrate them. Even if they did, there is little legal framework on how they would do it.

Texas and Florida, two states with major college football and basketball programs, ban pay-per-play contracts and the use of bids to attract recruits to campus. But no state has established mechanisms to investigate or punish a school, organization, or agent caught violating the rules.

“A lot of people are referring to the NCAA not taking action, but the same can be said of the states,” said Darren Heitner, a lawyer who helped draft Florida law.

Unenforced state bans on pay-per-play and hiring agreements have calmed lawmakers concerned that college sports they like were changing, said Heitner, an advocate for athletes ’rights to make money. But there has been no indication that a state attorney general or local prosecutor is chasing a big college, coach, and wealthy donors if the team is bringing in outstanding and winning players.

Alabama was a state that had a specific punishment in its law: anyone who offered compensation to an athlete who made him lose eligibility faced a possible Class C offense, which carried up to 10 years in prison.

But Alabama lawmakers repealed the entire state college athlete compensation law earlier this year. The original author of the law called for the repeal because he was concerned about leaving Alabama schools at a recruitment disadvantage compared to rival schools in other states that had no similar restrictions.

Arkansas gives some legal power to athletes in that state. They may sue their agent or another third party to offer or establish an agreement that is subsequently deemed inappropriate and declared unfit to play.

Half of the states do not have athlete compensation laws. Schools there stayed to navigate the general parameters that the NCAA provided in June 2021 on the eve of the NIL era and wait to see what would apply. Pay-per-play and “inappropriate incentives” were still off the table, the NCAA said at the time, but there were few details and hundreds of deals reached NIL in the following weeks.

Few expect mass repression and the Division I Governing Board has indicated that its focus was on the future. There are simply too many athletes and too many contracts for NCAA enforcement to see them all.

“The application will go to the NCAA, (but) there’s no way they’re trying to look at thousands of offers,” said Mit Winter, a sports law attorney in Kansas City, Missouri.

“It’s located where you have no choice but to try to set an example from a promoter or a collective,” Heitner said. “If not, what was the point? … If he doesn’t, he’s powerless and obsolete. He still has that problem that he knows he’s going to be sued.”

NCAA officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In Texas, the nonprofit Horns With Heart raised its eyebrows when it announced just before the December national football signing day that it would offer all offensive linemen on Longhorns scholarships $ 50,000 to support charities. A few days later, Texas signed one of the best recruiting classes in the country with a large number of front-line offensive linemen.

Horns With Heart co-founder Rob Blair did not care about the NCAA warning, saying the nonprofit has complied with the rules since its launch.

“We realized at the beginning of the NIL era that this attitude of the Wild West would eventually lead us to a time like this, so we set out to be different,” Blair said in an email. “We have gone further to ensure that we not only follow the letter of the NIL regulatory law, but we feel that we also represent the spirit of the NIL laws as they were originally written.”

In addition to NCAA enforcement personnel, university compliance directors — long-time watchdogs for athletes and their eligibility — are trying to navigate a changing landscape with murky rules.

Lyla Clerry, Iowa’s senior associate director of athletics for compliance, welcomed the NCAA’s renewed guidance on athlete support contracts if that means they will be enforced.

“Honestly, I don’t know that I have much faith that I’m going to see this happen,” Clerry said, noting that the past year has been “frustrating” for compliance officials.

“You don’t really know, well, what we should enforce, because what is the NCAA going to enforce? So we can’t be constantly banging our heads trying to enforce things that aren’t being enforced nationwide,” Clerry said. “I don’t know if I’d say it’s running blind, but we’re definitely in the dark.”

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