As states across the country prepare to let college athletes sign endorsement deals starting July 1, the NCAA appears to be readying a formal approach to name, image and likeness (NIL).
The first step may be rebooting a search it launched last fall for a third-party administrator to track deals, educate stakeholders and enforce regulations. The governing body’s Division I council is meeting next week, and according to one of its members, will discuss the handful of finalists.
One of those options is a nonprofit created by former NCAA executive vice president Oliver Luck and longtime sports and media executive Bill Squadron. The NIL Education and Information Center, a 501c3 registered in Indiana last September, was pitched as a fully independent body that could work with the NCAA without any other direct business interests across college sports, according to people familiar with the bid, who were granted anonymity because the details aren’t public.
Both Luck and Squadron declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the NCAA also declined to comment on the finalists, or the organization’s NIL plans more broadly.
The idea for a third-party vendor came from an NIL working group formed in 2019. According to co-chair Val Ackerman, the group determined that the NCAA shouldn’t be explicitly approving deals, but that there should be some transparency without taxing on-campus compliance staffers.
INFLCR, another finalist for the administrator role, told the NCAA on Sunday that it was withdrawing its bid due to the “clear” conflicts of interest if it were both a partner for certain athletic departments and an overseer of all NIL deals. Two of the other finalists, Opendorse and CLC, also have existing commercial relationships with schools.
“I do think the independence and neutrality of that entity is critically important to the perception of integrity with this model,” Ackerman, who is commissioner of the Big East, said in an interview. “Assuming it moves forward, and there’s still some questions about it, in terms of what group might be selected to be involved, I think it has to be seen as separate and apart from anybody who’s looking to profit in this space.”
Under their proposal, Luck and Squadron will co-chair the nonprofit, but plan to hire about a dozen people to handle its daily operations. Sources said the group’s advisory board includes Los Angeles Sparks star Chiney Ogwumike, former WNBA president Donna Orender, and Larry Irving, a former Hewlett-Packard exec who worked as an adviser to President Clinton.
The proposal also mentioned a handful of contractors willing to support the endeavor, the people said. That list includes software giant Salesforce, and Altius Sports Partners, which would provide the educational component requested by the NCAA. (Luck is an unpaid Altius adviser, but told the NCAA that he would step away from the group if this proposal went though, according to one of the people).
The group’s approach also likely differs in one other critical way—its cost to the NCAA. While some other bidders offered services at limited cost to the governing body, the nonprofit proposal requires full funding from the NCAA. The budget, which would be approved annually by the NCAA, was estimated in the low seven figures, according to the people.
The NCAA’s DI Council convenes next Wednesday for its monthly meeting, and West Virginia University athletic director and councilmember Shane Lyons recently told the Washington Post that the group could make a decision on the third-party administrator by the end of the month. Lyons also said the council could use its June 22-23 meeting to discuss long-awaited (and long-delayed) legislation changes, which would need ultimate approval from the NCAA board.
An NCAA spokeswoman said the May and June meetings have been scheduled for months, and confirmed that NIL will be a topic of discussion at both. She declined to provide specific agenda items.
The NCAA received 19 bids last year following its initial request for proposal for the third-party vendor. Those bids were eventually winnowed to a small group of finalists that included INFLCR, Opendorse, CLC, and this nonprofit, according to people familiar with the process.
Candidates were first told to expect a decision on Nov. 20, then Dec. 4, but no decision came. A month later, when the NCAA delayed the adoption of its new NIL rules, the process ground to a halt, the people said.
But while the NCAA waited, state legislatures did not. As of this week at least five states, including football-centric Florida, Georgia and Mississippi, are set to allow athletes to endorse products and sign marketing deals starting July 1. It has brought urgency (and panic) to athletic departments across the country. In just six weeks, the new reality will take effect for thousands of athletes.
With the clock ticking, NCAA President Mark Emmert told the New York Times last week that members need to vote on those proposed new rules “before, or as close to, July 1.”
Other contractors mentioned in the nonprofit proposal, according to people familiar with the bid, include mobile developer Mercury, which would build the app that athletes use to track deals, and Indianapolis-based E-gineering, which already works with the NCAA and can integrate into the governing body’s preexisting software. There’s also a partnership with North American Association of Sports Economists, which will help consult on vague guardrail of “fair market value” in NIL deals.