CINCINNATI — The moment of truth is drawing near for the fate of a highly-discussed name, image and likeness proposal within the Ohio High School Athletic Association membership.
The question may not be if NIL eventually arrives in the Ohio high school sports landscape but simply when it will arrive.
There are 817 Ohio High School Athletic Association member high school principals who are eligible to vote on NIL until May 16.
If approved, NIL becomes effective May 16 for approximately 400,000 Ohio student-athletesin grades 7-12.
"If our member schools say no to NIL now the way it's proposed, it will be an interesting summer because we will be in court pretty soon," OHSAA director of media relations Tim Stried said Monday night. "We really will have a lot of decisions to make. The NCAA threw millions of dollars at fighting this and they lost. We (the OHSAA) obviously do not have millions of dollars to throw at anything in court. So it would be a very interesting summer and NIL would most likely be here whether we like it or not."
Nine states already permit NIL with several others considering options, according to Opendorse, a Nebraska-based NIL company that provides technology to the athlete endorsement industry.
"I would not be surprised if there is six figures worth of deals that will be awaiting high school athletes in the state of Ohio," said Braly Keller, a name, image and likeness specialist at Opendorse.
Keller said 70% of nearly 100,000 NIL deals (college and high school) completed through the company have been social media activations. He said there is a good amount of potential for Ohio, which is the fourth-largest state association in the country for member schools.
"There are a combination of very talented individuals in the state athletically but there is also very talented individuals who are influencers in their own right from a social media standpoint, entrepreneurs starting their own business while they are in high school," Keller said.
The discussion about the NIL proposal has sparked debate among high school athletic administrators, coaches and fans this spring from Lake Erie to the Ohio River.
Since NIL was presented as an annual referendum item in early April, the OHSAA has hosted six regional school administrator meetings where the topic has been addressed around the state.
"Ninety-nine percent of the feedback has been a little bit of frustration that we are faced with this," Stried said.
"It's already at the college level. This is such an interesting referendum item because even if a school votes 'yes' on this one it doesn't really mean that they like it. It's more like pick your poison. Do we want to take our chance with the courts which would happen if this doesn't pass. Or do we take our chance with us controlling this referendum item and we control the language, we put those safeguards in place and that's the road we're trying to go down."
The NIL proposalwould allow high school student-athletes to sign endorsement agreements so long as their teams, schools and/or OHSAA logo are not used and provided the companies aren't synonymous with casinos, gambling, alcohol, drugs and tobacco.
Student-athletes would not be allowed to display a sponsor during a team activity. There are no additional benefits for the school or that student-athlete's teammates.
Moreover, a student-athlete who enters an NIL agreement would have to disclose the proposed agreement/contract to the OHSAA member school in order to adhere to the bylaw.
Whether the proposal is approved May 16 is anyone's guess.
The debate will certainly continue before results of the referendum vote are scheduled to be announced the morning of May 17.
OHSAA executive director Doug Ute told WCPO last month that the aim of the proposal is to allow the membership to decide its ultimate future instead of an outside influence.
The objective is to also help its volunteer member schools in 26 sanctioned sports this school year.
"I think that's our job to our member schools if this passes is to help provide that education out to the schools on what their role should be and out to our families and our student-athletes on how to keep away from bad things happening," Ute said.