SportSpeak: Can of worms opened with NIL money

Mark Schnabel
The Kansan
Mark Schnabel: SportSpeak

We’re headed into the college football season and the question still on everyone’s mind is how will NIL money affect the balance of power.

NIL — in case you missed it, and probably didn’t — means Name, Image and Likeness.

Colleges still can’t pay players directly, but players are free to line up their own promotional deals, profit off their social media accounts and make money in myriad other ways.

There’s already an ad on local TV for a restaurant featuring Wichita State basketball players.

So far, the answer has been the big have been getting bigger. The SEC appears to be the early winner to the point where the Big 12 might, could, should, would, is in jeopardy — and we’re not talking about the popular game show that featured Art Flaming and Alex Trebec.

It’s been reported that Alabama quarterback Bryce Young has already earned close to (in my best Dr. Evil voice) “one million dollars.”

If you play a major sport in a power-5 conference, you stand to make out pretty well — at least initially. But this is still a potential minefield.

I’ll start with the easy stuff first.

Taxes — A college scholarship is non-taxable. NIL money is income. To make matters worse, a student can still be claimed as a dependent on his parent’s taxes. Who has to claim the income and pay the taxes? I won’t answer that and refer you to an accountant or tax lawyer.

Title IX — On the face of it, colleges don’t appear to be on the hook for this — but I wouldn’t bet the farm. I’m not a judge or a lawyer (but I have played law enforcement three times in my life in “The Crucible,” “State Fair” and “Fiddler on the Roof”). This could be tricky if it’s somehow ruled that a college must provide an equal opportunity to the loot.

If not Title IX, then sex discrimination employment law. In this case, the booster or business sponsoring the promotional opportunity could be on the hook. Does a business hiring 65 Super Big State football players have to hire Super Big State women’s field hockey players? Is that sex discrimination? (I can already see the commercials on late night TV for lawyers ready to represent you Ms. Field Hockey Player).

Then there’s the locker room. With Big Shot QB getting seven figures and his linemen getting little to nothing, how will that affect team harmony. In the NFL, nearly all the players (outside the practice squad) is getting theirs, but college is not the NFL.

Market size will matter.

Manhattan, Kan., and Ames, Iowa, are going to be at a distinct disadvantage to Austin, Texas, or Columbus, Ohio. Time for some of the K-State and Iowa State boosters to pony up the $$$.

Could this save college football in LA. New York City hasn’t had a college football power since the 1950s. Could this reverse the fortunes in the Big Apple?

Now to high schools.

Sorry kids, you can’t cash in yet.

The court rulings on college athletics, so far, do not extend to high schools.

Amateurism rules pertaining to high school athletics, for the most part, have stood court challenges. The Kansas State High School Activities Association rules on amateurism still stand and an athlete can forfeit eligibility for accepting NIL money.

However, a non-KSHSAA school isn’t bound by those rules — and there are a small group of those that might allow an athlete to cash in. There are also non-academic club teams that may also allow an athlete to make some money — at least as allowed by state and federal statutes.

If there are entities willing to siphon off the top high school athletes with the promise of money, what happens to traditional high school sports?

So many questions and so few answers.

And so it goes.

Mark Schnabel is the sports editor for the Kansan.