ASHEBORO — Jim Smith, a fictitious student-athlete at Asheboro High School, looks into the camera and professes his love for a local pizza establishment.
Jennifer Jones, a fictitious student athlete at Southwestern Randolph High School, attends an off-campus camp, sets up a table and sells autographed pictures.
You’re driving down Dixie Drive and see a big billboard on the side of the road with the picture of a local high school student-athlete smiling while driving a particular car.
All three scenarios are possible after the North Carolina High School Athletic Association passed a proposal last week that allows high school student-athletes in the state to profit off their name, image and likeness (NIL).
Under the policy, student-athletes could profit off their name, image, and likeness through appearances, athlete-owned brands, autographs, camps and clinics, group licensing, in-kind deals, instruction, non-fungible tokens, product endorsements, promotional activities and social media.
However, the rule would not allow athletes to be affiliated with gambling, tobacco products and alcohol.
There are currently more than 180,000 student-athletes at NCHSAA member schools — traditional public schools, dozens of charter schools, and four non-boarding parochial schools.
The proposal passed 15-3 in last week’s NCHSAA board meeting.
The policy, however, is facing resistance by the General Assembly. Senate Bill 636, which was introduced in essence to strip the NCHSAA of some of its power in governing high school sports, was amended to include the prevention of the NCHSAA to allow high school athletes to profit off of NILs.
The bill would require the State Board of Education and not the NCHSAA to determine amateur rules, including policies pertaining to NIL. The bill was passed 30-20 in the Senate and now heads to the House of Representatives. As of late last week, no vote by the House had been announced.
“I think it's crazy,” Wheatmore High School Athletic Director Rick Halo said, echoing the feelings of most Randolph County athletic directors and coaches who talked about the change. “I guess we're following suit with what everyone else does. This is high school, not college. To be honest, I don’t know all the ins and outs and how it will all work, but when a 17-year-old kid has a chance to make money somewhere, that kind of changes everyone’s perspective.
“This is totally against the high school association’s mission statement that says they want to create a level playing field for everyone,” Halo continued. “You have the haves and the have-nots and everyone is going to be searching for the haves.”
North Carolina is the 28th state that has approved the NIL for high school athletes. About 10 more are currently in the process of discussion.
“I’m a little shocked they did,” said Burton Cates, the former longtime Athletic Director and current head football coach at Eastern Randolph High School. “Evidently, they are trying to stay ahead of the curve. It will be a different footprint on high school sports for sure.”
Coaches and other school personnel would be banned from using NIL for recruiting and enrollment. Schools would also be prohibited from facilitating NIL deals or acting as a student's agent. Athletes will not be able to affiliate themselves with a specific school, conference, school district, the NCHSAA or the NFHS through an NIL deal.
The NCHSAA will require student-athletes to report all NIL deals to their school and the school will be required to keep a record of those NIL deals with the NCHSAA. Any student-athlete breaking any of the rules would be ineligible for 60 calendar days.
“I think there definitely has to be some rules and regulations to put in,” Trinity High School AD Robert Mitchell said. “Colleges have full departments that make sure everything concerning the NIL is legit. We are already spread thin at the high school level and to make sure everything is legit will take a lot of doing.”
Prior to reaching a deal with a company, athletes must go through an education course about NIL, put together by the National Federation of State High School Associations. Parents, coaches, athletic directors and principals would be required to go through the course as well.
“I hate it,” said Asheboro High School Athletic Director Wes Berrier. “I think it’s going to have a bigger impact in bigger cities like Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro. There will be a lot of schools in those cities who can draw kids away from Randolph County and into places like Guilford.”
“Initially, I am not a fan of it,” said AHS football coach Calvin Brown, a longtime athletic director at Providence Grove High School before moving to AHS this spring. “It will take away from the high school experience.”
NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker said times are changing and the statewide high school association has to change as well.
“The bill is designed to try to give that structure as we move forward, because this is a very fast-changing landscape,” Tucker said. “We certainly are not looking for this to be something that booster clubs or someone else would try to turn into some type of recruiting tool.
“If we have folks who go rogue, so to speak — that can happen not just with this policy but that could happen with anything — we would deal with that just like we deal with other instances where someone is in violation of our rules and regulations.”
Tucker stressed this proposal can not be used for recruiting.
“We don't always have the five-star athletes come through here,” Halo said. “We do have some pretty good ones sometimes and that is when we have our best years.
“Now we're in danger. It puts everyone in a bind. You have to go out to companies and say, ‘Can you sponsor these kids so they don’t leave our school?’ Now, instead of money going to the school and booster clubs, it’s going to an individual.”