In the state of Missouri, a high school athlete who signs with an in-state college, such as the University of Missouri, can begin earning compensation for their name, image and likeness before enrolling at the school.
Soon in Texas, Texas A&M donors will earn priority points through the school’s fundraising arm for donations that eventually funnel to athletes. For months now in Arkansas, college athletes have been paid for charity appearances through a nonprofit organization that is owned by the school’s fundraising foundation.
Meanwhile, on the Florida Gulf Coast, where the SEC’s most powerful officials gather this week in Destin for their annual league meetings, none of the above is permitted. If the University of Florida carried out those actions, it would be in violation of NCAA rule and its own state law. The same can be said for a handful of other SEC schools in Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee.
“Right now, we’re in no-man’s land,” says Walker Jones, executive director of the Ole Miss collective, The Grove. “If you are the SEC office and you’ve got 14 schools and three are operating this way, it’s a competitive problem.”
Within the 11-state footprint of the country’s most dominant college football league, fairness is fading, swallowed by the greed of competition from the conference’s very own members. Through lobbying efforts, schools have worked with their state lawmakers to feverishly rewrite statutes to give them an advantage over neighboring programs.
New state laws adopted in Arkansas, Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma clear a path for their schools to bring NIL programs more under their proverbial roof while also prohibiting enforcement from the NCAA and others. This new evolution of NIL collectives tests NCAA and SEC governorship, risks federal rules violations and, maybe most important, pushes college sports another step closer to what many believe is an eventuality: Schools paying athletes directly.
And yet, despite the obvious issues, the movement is sweeping across the Southeast footprint with SEC speed.
“It reminds me of a rigged marketplace,” says Julie Sommer, a lawyer and expert on NIL matters who works for the Drake Group, an organization whose mission is to defend academic integrity at universities. “Federally funded institutions running these enterprises for private gain? The first big question is, what’s the IRS going to do?”
While debates over field storming and a future scheduling format have captured attention, SEC power brokers have a much more pressing issue at hand: the distribution of money to college athletes.