High school athletes taking advantage of growing NIL movement

College sports changed forever two years ago when the NCAA declared that athletes could start making money through name, image and likeness (NIL) deals. Now, high schoolers want in on the action too.

While NIL contracts at the pre-college level are rare and usually only for big names, some young athletes have been able to score deals with name brands, signing contracts earning them thousands of dollars. 

Soon after the NCAA allowed college athletes to be paid through NIL deals, California became the first state to allow the same opportunities to go to high schoolers. Since then, at least 30 states and Washington, D.C., have passed legislation legalizing NIL contracts in K-12 schools. 

The most recent was to do so was Georgia earlier this month, and Michigan seems like it could be next on the bandwagon after state House members on Thursday approved legislation on the issue.

“Athletes should get compensated for their name, image and likeness,” said state Rep. Jimmie Wilson Jr. (D), who introduced the bill, the Detroit Free Press reported. “But we’re talking about high school athletes, so we want to make sure safeguards are in place.”

Texas currently does not allow NIL deals for high school athletes. UIL deputy director Dr. Jamey Harrison said the state’s governing body for high school athletics is taking a wait-and-see approach but added that coaches have expressed strong opinions about it.  

“There is a concern of losing players to a bordering state that does allow NIL. We haven’t seen much of that, but that is a concern,” Harrison said. “If we then make NIL legal in Texas, (the expressed concern is) wouldn’t it be easier to lose my player to another Texas high school because they got a better NIL deal than it would be to move them to another state. You get into this divide between the haves and have-nots and who can generate the most money.

“We have talked to other states and as soon as it became legal, they started getting calls from booster clubs saying we want to be a change and be a collective, just like they’re doing in college. I’m not sure that’s what high school athletics in Texas is supposed to be and not what it has been. We’ll follow the lead of the state legislators if they choose to change that law.”

Beyond the physical skills needed to get noticed, a bevy of factors can contribute to high school athletes landing a rare NIL deal.

“NIL athletes, doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be the star quarterback or the star basketball player for the team. If you have a social media following that is enticing and you’re you’re funny, you’re creative — you can be in any sport and earn true NIL opportunities,” said Sean Hughes, COO of Athliance, a company dedicated on working with schools on NIL deals. 

A lucky few have cashed in big.

Alyssa and Gisele Thompson, sisters who played high school soccer in California, were the first high schoolers to land a multi-year contract with Nike, though the amount of the agreement was not disclosed.

Other athletes who have made history include Jada Williams, who became the first female high school basketball player to get a national NIL deal last year. Agreements have also come for students with high-profile connections such as Bryce James, the son of basketball star LeBron James, who received national NIL endorsements with Nike before he competed in his last high school basketball season.

Student-athletes have also gotten contracts with companies such as Puma, Gatorade and Spreadshop.

However, even among the few NIL contracts at the pre-college level, endorsements with major brands such as Nike or Adidas are rare, said Karissa Niehof, CEO of the National Federation of State High School Associations

“Most of the NIL deals that we see happening in high school are like local things, like maybe the local pizza parlor, maybe the local car dealer, and maybe there’s like a sign and there’s a picture of the kid with the name,” Niehof said. 

Meanwhile, even at the college level, the NIL conversation is not over. On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard from experts who said Congress needs to find legislative solutions to issues in college sports such as compensation for athletes and the well-being of the students.

Much of the discussion focused on the desire of student-athletes not to be classified as employees of the school if they received payment for their sport.

“To enable enhanced benefits while protecting programs from one-size-fits-all actions in the courts, we support codifying current regulatory guidance into law by granting student-athletes special status that would affirm they are not employees,” said Charlie Baker, the president of the NCAA, in his opening remarks.

Niehof says one of the biggest concerns when it comes to NIL, especially in high schools, is turning what is suppose to be a learning opportunity into a professional environment. 

“If we were to allow student athletes in high schools to be entering into professional contracts, while associated with the high school activity, we have, in essence, just professionalized high school sports,” she said.

States restrict how NIL deals for athletes can be structured, with the students unable to associate with their school or team in partnership with a company. 

While some states are still catching up for high school NIL deals, observers predict it won’t be long until all are on board. 

Bill Carter, founder of Student-Athlete Insights, an NIL consulting and education company, said in two years he believes all 50 states will allow high school athletes to sign NIL deals, though the change will not affect most students.

“It’s going to be deals that are done by high-profile elite prospects on their way to college or kids that have like really committed in a big way to social media and built a following and get hired by a local business to promote a local businesses product or services,” Carter said. “And so I see that change [in high school sports] being the growth [of states allowing NIL deals], but I don’t see the change being any sort of real difference in the day to day of high school sports.”

Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher (aka HP Pundit) is not a Democrat or Republican. He is a free thinking independent bringing you news and commentary with a dose of much needed common sense.

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