MPSSAA opens the door for NIL deals for Maryland high school athletes

The state’s governing body for high school athletics issues guidelines for student-athletes as well as member schools, LEAs and affiliated employees and volunteers

Published on: December 29, 2022 5:03 PM EST|Updated on: December 30, 2022 7:26 AM EST

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Following a Dec. 7 Board of Control Meeting, the Maryland Public Schools Athletic Association (MPSAA), the athletic governing body of the state’s public schools, adopted guidance for Name Image and Likeness (NIL) for interscholastic athletics. Those guidelines were recently released, essentially flashing a green light for state high school athletes, under the MPSAA’s jurisdiction, to profit from the marketing of their Name, Image and Likeness.

Maryland becomes the 24th state to allow student-athletes to participate in NIL activities, following recent similar decisions in Pennsylvania and Tennessee.

NIL became a reality following a June, 2021 unanimous decision by the Supreme Court, in National Collegiate Athletic Association v. Alston, 141 S.Ct. 2141 (2021), that stated the NCAA’s rules limiting education-related benefits for student-athletes violated federal antitrust laws.

This ruling applied specifically to NCAA rules but the opportunities quickly spread to high school students as various state athletic associations enacted their own guidance to govern NIL activities.

In issuing its guidance the MPSAA has determined that “Student-athletes and their families may engage or work with professional service providers, such as agents and advisors, to engage in NIL activities for financial gain, except as prohibited by this guidance.”

What is the potential?

In June The Athletic reported a 5-Star recruit in the Class of 2023 signed an NIL deal worth more than $8 million, which included $350,000 up front and monthly payments that will increase to more than $2 million per year once he steps foot on his college campus.

Nike signed its first NIL deal earlier this year, inking Harvard-Westlake (Los Angeles) soccer players Alyssa and Gisele Thompson, to a multiyear agreement. Five-star basketball recruit Mikey Williams struck a lucrative deal with Puma and New York basketball players Johnuel Fland and Ian Jackson, as well as Louisiana wrestler Richie Clementi also signed deals.

The following activities were declared permissible:

  • Commercial endorsements
  • Promotional activities
  • Social media presence
  • Product or service advertisements
  • Non-fungible tokens (NFTs)

However, all such activities must remain separate from their participation in interscholastic athletics. Thus, student-athletes are prohibited from engaging in the following non-exclusive list of activities when engaging in school-based interscholastic athletics:

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  • Making any reference to a member school or the MPSSAA when engaging in any NIL activity
  • Wearing a school-based team jersey or otherwise displaying the school’s name, mascot, logo, or any other school identifying marks when marketing a NIL product or service
  • Endorsing or promoting goods or services of any third-party NIL partner during school-based team activities and events, including but not limited to:

o Wearing third-party apparel

o Displaying a third-party logo or brand

o Displaying a third-party insignia or identifying mark

In addition, student-athletes are prohibited from engaging in any NIL activities involving the following non-exclusive categories of products or services:

  • Adult entertainment products and services
  • Alcohol products
  • Tobacco and nicotine-related products
  • Cannabis products
  • Controlled dangerous substances
  • Prescription pharmaceuticals
  • Casinos and gambling, including sports betting and the lottery
  • Video games, on-line games and mobile devices
  • Weapons, firearms, and ammunition

The prohibition on MPSSAA student athletes doing NIL deals to promote video games is unique, making the MPSSAA the first state association to do this.

The MPSSAA also issued further guidelines to its Member Schools and Local Education Agencies, which included employees, contractors, volunteers, administrators and coaches, stating they may not:

  • Act as a representative of a student, engage in any management or agency activities, or otherwise be involved with a student-athlete’s use of their NIL. A legal guardian who is also an employee of an LEA must act solely as the legal guardian and not a representative of the school
  • Promise NIL opportunities to entice student-athletes to transfer or attend their school
  • Offer or provide a student with any grant, loan, gift or financial benefit related to a student’s NIL
  • Form, direct, or engage a NIL Collective or conduct any other group interactions as it relates to student-athlete NIL activities

The last point also makes Maryland the first state to specifically prohibit the formation of NIL Collectives within schools. This does not prevent third parties from forming NIL Collectives.

The MPSSAA further stated that violation of these guidelines could lead to a loss of a student-athlete’s amateur status, which would make that student-athlete ineligible for participation in interscholastic athletics. In addition, violations by individuals affiliated with MPSSAA member schools or a LEA could lead to penalties for those individuals.

The states two largest private school athletic associations, the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) and Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland (IAAM), have not yet released any guidance on NIL initiatives. According to sources, both organizations are studying the MPSSAA decision and have it has an agenda item for discussion in the coming months.