The NCAA is actively looking into a pair of high-profile NIL deals involving football players at Brigham Young University and the University of Miami for potential violations of the association’s interim rules regarding new marketing rights for college athletes, according to multiple people familiar with the probe.
NCAA enforcement staffers are trying to determine if these two deals qualify as a pay-for-play set-up, which is prohibited under the NCAA’s temporary NIL guidelines, according to the people, who were granted anonymity because the details are private.
It is unclear if the NCAA is looking into deals beyond these two. An NCAA spokesperson declined to comment.
The BYU deal is a partnership with protein bar maker Built that provided compensation for every member of its football team; the Miami deal is an offer made by American Top Team to all 90 Hurricanes football players on scholarship.
“We have communicated with the NCAA concerning the Built Bar NIL arrangement,” Jon McBride, BYU’s associate athletic director for communications, told Sportico in a statement Friday. “They have informed us they do not have any additional questions at this time. We will continue to monitor and abide by the NCAA interim NIL policy.”
A spokesperson for Miami said that the school has not been contacted by the NCAA about the matter.
The probes, regardless of how they turn out, could be a watershed moment for the nascent college athlete NIL industry. The patchwork school-by-school and state-by-state nature of the space has created confusion surrounding the rules and their enforcement. The NCAA failed to create its own comprehensive policies on NIL in 2020, and lobbied for federal legislation in the first half of 2021. But the effort failed as 13 state laws took effect July 1, allowing college athletes to earn money from their right of publicity.
The day before, the NCAA issued a bare-bones interim policy, which granted athletes across the country those basic rights, regardless of their school’s location.
Should the NCAA determine that BYU and Miami athletes are in violation of its policies, the next step would likely be a formal investigation. There is no clear timetable for when that might happen.
Questions on NIL enforcement were at the forefront this week during the annual midyear meeting between the NCAA and the National Association of Athletic Compliance, which represents athletic department compliance officials.
Jason Leonard, the NAAC’s president and executive director of compliance at Oklahoma, says his group pushed the NCAA to move briskly in shoring up the distinction between permissible and impermissible payments from third parties to college athletes.
The BYU and Miami deals have been viewed by others in the compliance space as NCAA gut checks, effectively daring the weakened and besieged governing body to take an increasingly unpopular—and, perhaps, illegally anticompetitive—stand against athletes earning money while they play.
“There has been this waiting period to see where the NCAA is going to be,” said Leonard. “If they don’t take any action, then potentially more schools are going to jump in with both feet—because you have to.”
If whole-team NIL deals are permitted, either implicitly or explicitly, Leonard questions whether it is even possible for school compliance departments to monitor whether their athletes are, in fact, getting compensation in exchange for publicity work.
“To me, it looks like some of these deals are inducements,” said Leonard, declining to address any specific school.
On Wednesday, NCAA president Mark Emmert told reporters that the association was currently investigating potential NIL violations, although he did not provide specifics.