Name, image and likeness: What it means for high schools and could NIL deals be coming to PA?

Matt Allibone
York Daily Record

The new name, image and likeness rules that have drastically altered the landscape of collegiate athletics could soon affect high school sports.

Nine state athletic associations already allow NIL deals for their athletes: Louisiana, Alaska, California, Colorado, Utah, Kansas, Nebraska, New York and New Jersey.

Ohio voted against a name, image and likeness proposal this week ― with 68% of the state's 817 schools voting no.

Still, more states ― including Pennsylvania ― will likely have to make decisions on NIL in the near future.

"Anybody who is still questioning: 'Is it going to come into the high school space everywhere?' The answer is yes,'" said Courtney Altemus, the founder of Team Altemus, a Philadelphia-based financial advisory firm for student athletes and athletic organizations. "It's not going to stop, so we have to be smart about teaching people how to do it."

Here's what we know about NIL at the high school level and why it could be coming to Pennsylvania in the future.

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Laurel Highland's Rodney Gallagher is a football and basketball star who would likely have endorsement opportunities if a name, image and likeness proposal is passed in Pennsylvania.

Are high school athletes currently allowed to accept NIL deals in Pennsylvania?

No.

While Gov. Tom Wolf signed a law last summer allowing college student-athletes in Pennsylvania to receive compensation for their name, image and likeness, the law does not apply to high school athletes. The PIAA prohibits athletes from retaining their amateur status while accepting money or property related to their athletic ability. The exception is golfers, who under USGA rules are allowed to accept up to $1,000 in prize money to cover expenses.

Is Pennsylvania considering changing its stance?

Yes.

Why? As PIAA associate executive director Melissa Mertz put it, "we're seeing other states go in that direction."

"We don't want to deny our student-athletes opportunities that students in other states are getting," Mertz said. "The landscape has changed, and we need to have an open mind. The biggest hurdle is just wrapping our arms around a different philosophy of what we view interscholastic athletics to be."

In other words: The issue isn't going away whether states like it or not.

With surrounding states like New Jersey and New York having passed proposals, the PIAA doesn't want its best athletes moving out of Pennsylvania in order to capitalize on financial opportunities. Mertz said some Pennsylvania colleges like Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh are concerned top athletes leaving the state could hurt them in recruiting.

There is also the possibility the PIAA could face legal action from student-athletes who are being offered endorsements or other financial opportunities. Tim Stried, the communications director for the Ohio High School Athletic Association, has said one reason the organization explored the proposal was to get in front of any legal challenges.

Mertz said the PIAA hasn't "gone down the road" of exploring legal issues related to NIL but that the organization is always bracing itself for those challenges.

"I feel like anything is possible for a lawsuit these days," Mertz said. "It's not like we haven't been sued before. It's unfortunately part of the business."

Do Pennsylvania colleges want the PIAA to pass an NIL proposal?

According to Mertz, yes.

She specifically mentioned Penn State and Pitt as two colleges the PIAA has communicated with on the topic. She said the influence of any colleges ― who have their own recruiting motivations ― will be part of the discussion but not the deciding factor.

"It's not going to carry the day for us because we have to make decisions that are best for high school athletes," Mertz said. "It's certainly good to have conversations since they're going down this road and dealing with it. They're living it."

How much money could student-athletes potentially earn?

Quarterback Arch Manning (16) throws a pass as Newman takes on Lafayette Christian Academy in the LHSAA Division III semifinals on Nov. 24, 2021.

While some of the top high school athletes across the country have signed NIL deals, the full details largely haven't been disclosed.

California quarterback Jaden Rashada became the first high school football player to sign an endorsement deal this past December, inking a "four-figure" deal with social media app Athletes in Recruitment, according to ESPN. Another California native, basketball player Mikey Williams, signed a deal with Excel Sports Management last July that "will generate millions of dollars" for him, the company told ESPN.

Altemus said the average NIL deal at the college level is between $1,200 and $1,300. She said deals at the high school level will most likely "start small" though it will depend on an athlete's brand and social media presence.

The national recruiting website On3 has created a ranking system for football and basketball player's NIL value based on social media following and engagement, achievements and media sentiment. Pittsburgh-area multi-sport star Rodney Gallagher is the highest-ranked football player in Pennsylvania (27th in the country) at $227,000. Louisiana quarterback Arch Manning — the grandson of Archie Manning and nephew of Peyton and Eli — is the highest-ranked in the country at $3.1 million.

"The early Division I commits will have opportunities in high school, for sure," Altemus said. "Will they be huge like six or seven-figure deals? That will be few and far between, like if you're Arch Manning or this generation's LeBron James."

What rules and restrictions could be put in place?

Mertz said the PIAA will study what other states have done. One certain restriction is that student-athletes would not be able to use their school's name, logo or mascot in endorsements or advertisements.

Others states, like New Jersey, have stipulated that student-athletes cannot endorse companies that involve alcohol, gambling, drugs, tobacco, adult entertainment and firearms.

Mertz also said that the PIAA has discussed requiring student-athletes to receive mandatory education on the topic.

There could potentially be a cap put on the amount of money a student-athlete could earn, but Mertz said the PIAA doesn't have an idea of what that amount will be. States like New York and New Jersey have not put a cap on the amount players can make. Altemus said she hasn't heard of any states doing that.

Could companies take advantage of student-athletes?

Mertz said during a recent discussion with Pennsylvania colleges on the topic, someone brought up a "ludicrous" story about a student in California who signed a seven-year endorsement deal at the age of 14.

"That's a perfect example that students don't know what they don't know," Mertz said. "Because this is uncharted territory."

The biggest concern is companies could take advantage of student-athletes and families who are not used to navigating the industry or signing financial contracts.

Courtney Altemus said that is an issue for families of all socioeconomic backgrounds.

"You have to be very thoughtful and intentional around money and brand decisions," she said. "We've seen so many examples at the collegiate level where student-athletes have signed contracts that whoever can make money off their name, image and likeness for the rest of their life."

There is also concern that schools could use NIL deals to convince student-athletes to transfer into their districts. Hypothetically, a school with a high number of athletes that have endorsement deals could use that information to entice other athletes to switch schools ― even if students aren't allowed to use school logos in the endorsements.

Mertz said she hopes the PIAA's current transfer rule would prevent that from happening. The current rule prohibits students who transfer during the 10th grade and after from participating in the postseason for one year unless given a waiver

"I don't see our transfer rule going away," Mertz said. "We've put a lot into our transfer rule with the postseason component. I think if you make it about the individual and not the school then that helps with that piece."

What are the other benefits of NIL deals?

Altemus said she thinks elite student-athletes who will get name, image and likeness deals at the college level will be able to improve their financial literacy at an earlier age if they receive the opportunities in high school.

She said star players could host their own camps and clinics in the summer and make money off of them.

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Both Mertz and Altemus said student-athletes who have large social media followings could also be seen as attractive to companies because of their potential reach and audience. Some of those athletes might not have a future in sports, but could still capitalize financially during their time as a high school athlete.

"It's great education, and a lifelong education," Altemus said. "It's valuable to learn about yourself before you start building your brand. Knowing about money and contracts is valuable. All of these things need to be talked about at a younger age for everybody, not just athletes."

What steps need to be taken by the PIAA? Is there a timeline?

Mertz said the PIAA doesn't have a timeline, but plans to "really tackle" the issue at its July board meeting. She said it will help that other states like Ohio will have already made decisions by then.

She said a change to the PIAA bylaws would need to be written by the board of directors and its legal counsel. She said it's possible the PIAA would send a survey out to schools across the state before voting as a board.

"We get a room temperature on it from the board because they represent the entire state," Mertz said. "I think there is going to be direction given (at the summer meeting). I don't know if that means by next year we'll have something, but there will be direction given because we plan to have information for the board to consider."

Matt Allibone is a sports reporter for GameTimePA. He can be reached at 717-881-8221, mallibone@ydr.com or on Twitter at @bad2theallibone.