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July 19, 2022

Pennsylvania high school athletes may soon be allowed to explore NILs

High School Sports PIAA
high school football participation Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

Pennsylvania high school football.

By now, most college sports fans know what “NIL” means. For those that don’t, it stands for name, image, likeness, and it’s revolutionizing the college sports world, enabling college athletes to make money off their image. July 1 marked the first anniversary for college athletes to monetize their popularity, when the NCAA succumbed to the pressure of numerous states passing laws allowing college athletes NIL rights. All three NCAA divisions voted to approve an interim NIL policy.

Now, more recently, the NIL movement has seeped into the high school level, and last Wednesday, July 13, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association, or PIAA, the state’s governing body of high school sports, approved an NIL plan on a first reading at the PIAA board meeting in State College. The proposal still must pass two more readings at future meetings before being enacted, but this was a major step in a new direction, which could mean by October, Pennsylvania high school athletes would be able to make money off their name, image and likeness.

The high school sports governing bodies of nine have sanctioned high school athlete NILs: Alaska, California, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York and Utah. Ohio shot down an attempt to sanction high school athletes for NILs in May, but that state seems to the exception.

Last November, NJSIAA, New Jersey’s high school sports governing body, officially approved its NIL proposal on the second reading by a 35-1 vote. The NJSIAA NIL went into effect on January 1, 2022.

Pennsylvania seems heading in that same direction, possibly beginning January 1, 2023.

“We’re following the lead of our brother athletic associations in New Jersey and New York in educating everyone associated with this,” said PIAA executive director Dr. Robert Lombardi in reference to NIL approval for Pennsylvania high school athletes. “There are nine states that approved NILs, five additional states that are about to approve and there’s 10 in the pipeline and Pennsylvania is one of the 10 that are considering approval of NILs, because we’ve had a lot of parents ask about this.

“It is not pay for play. Maybe I may need to reiterate that, it is not pay for play. Some people think that it is. It’s not. Right now, this is something that the PIAA board adopted upon first reading, so we can get the proposal out to all member schools and their district committees if they want to go down that road or not. NILs are not going away. We’ve met with Penn State, Temple and Pitt, and they are dealing with this. By us doing this, we’re trying to provide guidance and education about this matter so that they don’t run afoul of something.”

Lombardi spelled it out in simplistic terms: If someone was the star quarterback of ABC High School wearing No. 8, that athlete could not use the school’s name, its nickname, its school colors, any identifying apparel or logo, its uniform, for any NIL. NILs will also not permit high school alumni to create accounts for high school athletes.

The NJSIAA rules stipulate: “A student-athlete’s NIL activity and his or her participation in interscholastic athletics must remain separate. Student-athletes are prohibited from making any reference to a member school or the NJSIAA when engaging in any NIL activity. For example, while marketing a product or service, student-athletes may not wear a team jersey or otherwise display the school’s name, mascot, or logo. Likewise, student-athletes may not endorse or promote any third-party entities, goods, or services during school-based team activities – which means student-athletes may not wear the apparel or display the logo, insignia, or identifying mark of an NIL partner during any school-based team activities.”

Lombardi said that there would be two more readings, with the next meeting in September and the next meeting in October.

“We’re hearing some horror stories here, because what people and the parents of these kids with NILs don’t realize is that the student-athlete is a private contractor who’s responsible for paying local, state and federal taxes on the NILs,” Lombardi said. “That’s going to get people to shy away. We want to protect these high school kids from that mistake. We don’t want kids and families to fall into that hole. We may be talking about 12 kids, high school profile kids that we’re talking about.

“If people think rich, private schools will benefit, we’re covered in that area. No school, nor anyone employed or affiliated with that school, including booster clubs, coaches, administrators, or alumni, may solicit, arrange, initiate, negotiate or pay for a student’s use of an NIL, or any provision for consideration of an NIL. We tightened that to keep it away as a recruiting piece.

“We’re trying to be proactive and get in front of NILs, putting out education to our member schools and parents about this, so no one gets caught. There is a group all ready out there who’s working with the NFHS (National Federation of High Schools), and we want to piggyback off that. We don’t know where this is really going, but we do want to put it out there for discussion with the member schools is this is something that they want to do.”

Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has been writing for PhillyVoice since its inception in 2015 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.