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Woelk: Buffs AD George Stresses Need For National NIL Governance

Jan 6, 2022

BOULDER — Colorado Athletic Director Rick George believes a national set of guidelines are imperative when it comes to governing Name, Image and Likeness programs.

Otherwise, George said Thursday, the "chaos" that has accompanied the rollout of NIL programs across the nation will only continue to grow.

"I don't think the NCAA is performing their role," George said bluntly in a media roundtable setting. "To allow the NIL to get out of hand like it's gotten is not acceptable. We as an industry have to embrace getting this back together so we have some guidelines that are consistent across our industry. That's going to be really important for us moving forward."

George served on the NCAA's Federal and State Legislation Working Group that first proposed NIL rule change recommendations to the NCAA's Board of Governors last year.

But that committee's work went by the wayside last summer when the Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that NCAA rules limiting education-related compensation violated the Sherman Act (NCAA v. Alston).

Shortly thereafter, the NCAA voted to allow student-athletes to receive compensation in exchange for their name, image and likeness — but did not adopt any rules governing NIL.

Instead, the NCAA basically abdicated its responsibility and left NIL governance up to state legislatures. 

"In my opinion we could have done a lot more as the NCAA and we didn't," George said. "We didn't address it, we didn't put anything in place and now we're seeing, as somebody had said, the Wild, Wild West. I consider it chaos. We had a framework that would have been good that's sitting on a shelf somewhere."

Now, approximately 19 states have NIL laws (including Colorado) that all schools in those states must follow. The laws in every state are  different to some degree, meaning schools in some states are allowed to institute programs not allowed in others.

But even more importantly, there are 31 states without NIL laws — and in those states, every school is free to establish its own NIL programs and guidance, with the only restriction being that of following NCAA rules already in place concerning recruiting inducements, paying players to play, etc.

The interpretation of those rules and how they apply to NIL are, quite simply, interpreted differently — and in some cases quite loosely — by different programs.

That, George said, has created chaos and an unlevel playing field. The result is some schools offering hefty NIL programs that are promising some student-athletes as much as $50,000 per year.

"This isn't what the rule was intended for when we did the NIL," George said. "There's some things out there I'm disappointed in that some schools are doing because I think some of it falls under inducements … There are some things you can't do under NCAA bylaws with inducements, whether it's in the transfer portal or recruiting …. We have to have more guidelines, more governance with what's going on."

That lack of NIL uniform governance has also played a significant role in the tremendous growth of the transfer portal, instituted by the NCAA in 2018. The portal is a database of student-athletes who are exploring the option of transferring to another school. Once a player's name is in the portal, other schools can contact that player.

But the most significant change involving the portal is the elimination of a transfer "penalty." 

Prior to the establishment of the portal, players who transferred had to sit out a year of competition. Now, they are immediately eligible at their new school.

Thus, the confluence of new transfer rules and NIL opportunities has created a tremendous number of football players who have put their names in the portal.

"You have 1,500 people in the transfer portal," George said. "A lot of them are there to look at NIL opportunities."

Colorado is following closely the law passed by the state legislature last summer. CU has partnered with INFLCR, a content and compliance software platform that helps connect student-athletes with prospective NIL opportunities.

"Once we bring this INFLCR marketplace online, businesses can go into this marketplace and match up with student-athletes they want to provide an NIL opportunity," George said. 

The process will also closely involve CU's compliance office, which will ensure that Colorado stays within current NCAA guidelines.

Meanwhile, George and his coaches — in particular football coach Karl Dorrell and basketball coaches Tad Boyle and J.R. Payne — must continue to figure out how to best navigate the new environment produced by the transfer portal explosion that is being fueled by NIL opportunities.

It is not an easy task. Because the portal is "open" virtually year-round, it means players can make the decision to leave at almost any time.

For Dorrell, it means he could sign his recruiting class, go through spring practice — and then have players elect to leave. Roster management and preparation for fall camp then becomes an increasingly difficult proposition.

Dorrell on Thursday told of one coach who lost virtually an entire position group last year after spring ball. That meant that the coach not only had to replenish that group via the portal in a short period of time, he then went into fall camp with that position group having never been in an official practice at his program.

"The portal is a new element that's going on that nobody really understands all the facets," Dorrell said. "Anything and everything can happen. We have to be ready to make the necessary adjustments and additions within our program … It's hard to have a good feeling of where your team is going into fall practice because things can change so dramatically over the summer and you have a short window to replenish that."

There are, of course, some possible fixes. One would be to limit the time student-athletes could enter the portal.

Meanwhile, programs all over the country are adding portal analysts, who study and evaluate new entries every day.

"It makes sense to have a portal analyst," Dorrell said. "There's got to be some dedication to that to be really effective in that marketplace."

George, who served as CU's recruiting coordinator under Bill McCartney, agreed.

"It's having somebody look at that, knowing every day who's going in, what their abilities are, what their talents are, what our needs are and being able to assess it quickly," George said. "We have to be nimble and I know Karl and his team will be nimble moving forward."