What SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey thinks about NIL collectives

Bennett Durando
Montgomery Advertiser

BIRMINGHAM — Hours before the NCAA Board of Directors adopted name, image and likeness guidelines prohibiting boosters from recruiting, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey shared his thoughts on NIL collectives.

Sankey said he looks at NIL "pretty objectively" as it applies to autograph signings or athlete presence at events in exchange for compensation – the activities for which NIL was constructed, Sankey said.

"Where it’s concerning, though, is if you believe some of the volumes around money reported, we are seeing a transition away from university authority over an athletic program," he continued. "That’s another part of this that is not discussed. Who controls the roster?"

Sankey detailed two primary concerns he has with the current NIL landscape, which is dominated by collectives of boosters that arrange deals for athletes.

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The first: "We are expecting young people to sort through whatever number of different regulatory policies at the state or local levels to pick a college," he said Monday at the Associated Press Sports Editors Southeast Region meeting. "Where else do we do that of an 18-year-old?"

The second: Since NIL went into effect July 1, 2021, it has become a massive industry in which potentially unqualified agents or third parties get involved in the process of obtaining deals for athletes. "For all the complaining and finger-pointing about exploitation at the collegiate level," Sankey said, "we should be highly attentive to what's happening on the other side."

Sankey said that conferences are "curious about reports of booster activity going right into the recruiting process" and have been asking the NCAA how it would apply recruiting rules that aren't subject to antitrust law.

Sankey and Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff reportedly met with congress last week on Capitol Hill to lobby for federal legislation governing NIL. As Sankey discussed what's next for NIL on Monday, he referenced Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's concurring opinion in the 2021 antitrust ruling that offered what Sankey describes as "clear guidance" about amateurism in college athletics. 

"Nowhere else in America can businesses get away with agreeing not to pay their workers a fair market rate on the theory that their product is defined by not paying their workers a fair market rate," Kavanaugh wrote.

Sankey said Monday, "From my perspective, the issue is, do those collectives comply with state and federal law? That’s a responsibility for those involved." He said that with NIL, for the first time his 30-year career in college athletics, he had to consider all the differing state laws that dictate whether the NCAA can regulate an issue.

Those hurdles will continue to be a topic as the NCAA plans to investigate and retroactively punish schools that have recruited athletes through NIL collectives of boosters. When Sankey was asked for his thoughts on retroactive sanctions Monday, he would not comment on hypotheticals.

Sankey was asked whether the rise of NIL collectives and booster recruiting involvement were – or should have been – anticipated during the initial wave of NIL legislation.

"Part of our commentary as laws were being drafted was to say, 'These are things that are going to happen.' So was everything foreseeable? I would say not everything," Sankey said. "I've certainly been educated, but some of our concerns about the involvement of this activity in recruiting and using the NCAA word 'inducement,' you could forecast that.

"The ability to simply go to an NCAA convention and just put rules in place, that used to be OK. That's no longer going to be the solution. And if you look at some of the work that was done at the NCAA level leading up to last July 1, it was done with the old style of thinking, the old level of thinking in place. And we're at a whole new level of strategic thought that has to be applied to appropriately oversee college athletics."