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What the NIL era of college sports means for Indianapolis schools

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Shortly after the NCAA officially suspended rules that barred athletes from profiting off of their name, image and likeness, Auburn quarterback Bo Nix posted to Instagram to announce his partnership with Milo’s Tea Co.

Nix, whose father also played quarterback at Auburn, was among the first in a wave of high-profile college athletes to cash in on their name, image and likeness, or NIL, ushering in a new era of college sports.

About 600 miles north of Auburn, Alabama, was IUPUI volleyball player Shakana Norfleet, who said she was surprised when she heard the news from the NCAA. It was a move that’s seemed inevitable in recent years but still came suddenly in late June.

“I feel like a lot of us athletes, we definitely felt like it was past due,” said Norfleet, who went to Lawrence North High School. “It was definitely something we felt like should have happened a long time ago.”

Norfleet is preparing for her senior season and theoretically has the same opportunities as Nix and every other NCAA athlete. In reality, Norfleet likely won’t have access to the lucrative sponsorships that might make others thousands of dollars — maybe more.

The NCAA, citing amateurism, has long denied its athletes the opportunity to profit from their own marketability, including in college football and men’s basketball, where the top programs can generate upward of $100 million in revenue.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled the NCAA can’t limit education-related payments to student-athletes, calling it a violation of antitrust law. The NCAA then suspended NIL amateurism rules.

It’s clear some athletes in highly marketable sports will be able to pull in big money by signing autographs, inking endorsement deals and selling merchandise. But what about in Indianapolis, home to a Division II school and two smaller Division I schools?

For Norfleet, the possibilities include getting back into modeling and singing — two things she took more seriously before college.

Laura Hue, associate athletic director for compliance at IUPUI, said she’s gotten emails from student-athletes with questions about what they can and can’t do. (The most popular partner early on seems to be Barstool Athletics, a loosely defined venture of Barstool Sports.)

A significant part of the NIL market for small-school athletes may not even directly involve sports, Hue said. Athletes might have a significant following on YouTube for makeup or want to start a clothing line.

“I absolutely think there is a place for student-athletes at IUPUI and similar institutions,” she said.

At the University of Indianapolis, which competes at the Division II level, athletic director Scott Young said opportunities for athletes at smaller schools will probably also come from hosting camps, clinics and private lessons.

No matter what they do, athletes will have details to consider other than simply making money, Young said. There are licensing fees attached to the university’s name and logo, for example, so will athletes try to market themselves as a member of the university’s football team or as a college athlete in general?

Plus, any money earned could impact need-based financial assistance for school.
One potentially complicating factor is there isn’t a blanket NIL policy. The NCAA has been clear its policy is meant to bridge the gap to something more permanent. It’s likely Congress will address the issue eventually, but many state legislatures have NIL laws that have already gone into effect or will soon.

Indiana isn’t one of those states, meaning it’s up to individual schools to come up with their own guidelines for the time being.

Butler University athletic director Barry Collier said not having statewide legislation could be an advantage because it gives schools “maximum flexibility.” That could include, for example, dictating if athletes have to give the school a certain number of days’ notice for any deals they make.

Collier and Young said they weren’t aware of any athletes pursuing NIL opportunities as of July 6.

Some parts of the NCAA model haven’t changed: Schools still can’t pay their athletes, and there can’t be benefits tied to recruiting. Schools also can’t coordinate deals for athletes.

“This is not something that will be handed to anyone,” Collier said. “You must do the work for this.”

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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