At ACC meetings, confusion persists amid NCAA NIL guidelines

NC State athletic director Boo Corrigan, seen in this 2020 file photo, spoke about NIL after ACC meetings on Monday, May 9, 2022.

NC State athletic director Boo Corrigan, seen in this 2020 file photo, spoke about NIL after ACC meetings on Monday, May 9, 2022. ‘Hopefully it will be integrated on some level’ , Corrigan said. “I think we all do. I think all of us watching this support the image-likeness ability of the name, but I don’t know if that’s what the idea behind it was.

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Football coaches and athletic directors from ACC schools had been meeting for about two and a half hours here on Monday when the NCAA finally issued long-awaited guidance regarding name, image and likeness. The news quickly spread behind closed doors during the ACC’s annual spring meetings at the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island.

Coaches and DAs displayed the NCAA press release on their screens. The “NCAA guidelines are intended to provide clarity,” the statement said, “in a rapidly changing NIL environment.” The guidelines had been “developed by a working group of national leaders” with money-making opportunities for athletes “at the forefront” of all discussions.

It took the NCAA nearly three full paragraphs and 159 words to begin to get to the point: “NCAA recruiting rules prevent boosters from recruiting and/or providing benefits to potential athletes,” says the release, and now the NCAA has provided guidance to schools that supposedly made clearer what was and wasn’t allowed regarding NIL.

The problem: the instructions were not at all clear.

By the end of the first day of the ACC’s spring meetings, most coaches and athletic directors weren’t lingering. Most of the football coaches moved quickly past a small group of waiting reporters.

Pat Narduzzi, Pitt’s head coach, might have a lot to say about NIL and what he’s become. Narduzzi looks likely to lose his best returning player, receiver Jordan Addison, who entered the transfer portal.

Addison perhaps unwittingly represents this “rapidly changing” NIL landscape: Here’s a player who had great success at Pitt but is about to leave amid seemingly more lucrative financial opportunities off the pitch elsewhere. Reports and rumors abound that Addison will likely be heading to Southern Cal, but it’s not official yet. If that happened, it would be the kind of first move for players that many would applaud in this new era of college athletics, but one that would come in stark contrast to the intent of the NIL-related allowances the NCAA conceded there. almost a year old.

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Pittsburgh wide receiver Jordan Addison (3) takes a selfie with fans after a win over Syracuse in an NCAA college football game in Syracuse, NY on Saturday November 27, 2021. Adrian Kraus PA

Did Narduzzi have anything to say about NIL, the incentives, or the NCAA’s belated attempt to curb the predictable free-for-all that turned things into pay-for-play by any other name? Did he have anything to say about the specter of losing his best returning player due to an inability to match the value of a NIL deal that the player might be able to secure elsewhere?

Narduzzi probably had a lot to say about all of these things. But not publicly. Not now.

“You know I’m not talking about anything“, Narduzzi said, as he walked past reporters early Monday night. “Come on.

Those who stopped and spoke expressed skepticism about the NCAA’s ability to control a NIL environment that has blossomed into college athletics’ latest arms race.

Since the beginning of time, or at least since the beginning of the television rights deals that have bloated the coffers of athletic departments at major conferences everywhere, schools have clashed as fiercely outside the lines as between them. Trainer salaries and endless facility wars are the basis of traditional battlegrounds. The new frontier includes NIL collectives and agreements designed to not only market athletes and improve their brands, but to keep them happy and registered.

College athletes have never had as many rights as they do today, and that’s widely accepted as a positive. Yet the rampant NIL market has quickly overshot its original purpose and entered an area that will likely prove difficult, if not impossible, to reverse.

“Hopefully that will be integrated on some level,” Boo Corrigan, NC State’s athletic director, said after Monday’s meetings. “I think we all do. I think every one of us watching what’s going on supports the ability to name, to look like the image, but I don’t know if this that was the idea behind it all.

Earlier today, NC State backers launched what they call “Pack of Wolves,” a NIL collective that, according to its website, is “a community of passionate fans, alumni, and supporters” of Wolfpack Athletics who are “committed to empowering “NC State athletes” to maximize their personal brand value “through NIL” while creating meaningful and lasting connections” with supporters.

Pack of Wolves is not unlike the NIL collectives that exist elsewhere, including in North Carolina. Schools that do not have such collectives now run the risk of falling behind in the NIL game. Or maybe now the collectives are discouraged, given Monday’s news and the NCAA’s impending attempt to crack down on boosters who use NIL as a pretext to lure athletes to a particular school.

“The guidelines,” the NCAA statement said Monday, “defines as a booster any third-party entity that promotes an athletics program, assists in recruiting, or helps provide benefits to recruits, registered student-athletes, or members. The definition could include “collectives” set up to channel name, image and likeness deals with future student-athletes.

What did that mean, exactly? That boosters couldn’t be involved in a NIL deal at all? That a top-tier booster with, say, a pig farming empire, longtime NC State mega-supporter Wendell Murphy, wouldn’t be allowed to make a NIL deal with an NC State athlete?

Corrigan considered the hypothetical, first noting that boosters were not allowed to be involved in recruiting “for 100 years”.

“It was kind of a part of that,” he said, “that an encore couldn’t be involved. And now they can, from that perspective, right ?” he asked, referring to the ability for boosters to sponsor NIL offers.

“I think part of the challenge with all of this is that there is no market value associated with (NIL), is there? You know, the way it’s set up right now. And I think, for me, that’s been the challenge from the start.

Without a market value standard, it has been impossible to definitively separate a legitimate NIL arrangement from one that might exist solely to persuade an athlete to go or stay at a certain school. And even if such a distinction could be drawn, who would make it and how would the NCAA enforce the guidelines it communicated to members on Monday?

These are questions that no one here could answer on Monday. An ACC football coach, speaking off-the-record as he walked to dinner, rolled his eyes at the thought that the NCAA might end up in front of a masked pay-for-play like NIL, or even be on the point to stopping an onslaught of offers that look more like professional sports free agency than anything else. Nearly a year has passed since the NCAA reluctantly granted NIL rights to athletes, after battling the possibility for years, if not decades.

What resulted is the so-called “Wild West,” which has already become a memorable cliché to describe what’s going on in major college athletics these days. The Addison case is, in a way, Exhibit A.

“I’m thrilled that the NCAA is, you know, apparently ramping up enforcement plans — the priority of this one,” Clemson’s first-year athletic director Graham Neff said Monday. “Just, I know there’s been so much uncertainty with (NIL) over the last 10, 11 months.”

So how would these new NCAA guidelines be interpreted, Neff asked.

“I don’t know,” he replied.

At Clemson, he said, he and other administrators engaged in regular discussions with coaches about “what the rules are.” Those coaches, Neff said, told him, “I want to play by the rules.” But then there’s the inevitable follow-up, “Like, what are the rules?”

About an hour after the NCAA’s new NIL guidelines became public on Monday, it made no more sense at the ACC’s spring meetings than anyone could answer that question with any authority.

This story was originally published May 10, 2022 11:26 a.m.

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Andrew Carter spent 10 years covering major college athletics, six of them covering the University of North Carolina for The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer. He is now a member of The N&O’s and Observer’s statewide corporate and investigative reporting team. He attended NC State and grew up in Raleigh dreaming of becoming a journalist.

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