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Ohio schools reject NIL proposal that would have allowed endorsement deals for student-athletes

NIL may still be discussed at judicial level
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Posted at 9:07 AM, May 17, 2022

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A highly-discussed name, image and likeness proposal was voted down 538-254 by the Ohio High School Athletic Association member principals on Monday afternoon, the OHSAA informed its membership Tuesday morning.

"I think what it says is that the vast majority of OHSAA member schools are not ready for the NIL opportunities to be there at the high school level," OHSAA media relations director Tim Stried said.

The OHSAA membership vote was a significant opinion about Issue 12B, which would've created a new bylaw 4-10-3 for name, image and likeness regulations. There were 21 high school principals who abstained.

"We're certainly fine with the voting result as it is," Stried said. "I think our biggest goal was just to get it out to our member schools and let them have a say if and when this would move forward."

Stried told WCPO the OHSAA received feedback from school administrators in April that there were a lot of hurdles about the proposal.

That included questions about the impact on the high school sports landscape, the readiness of student-athletes for endorsement deals and issues about how the NCAA is grappling with NIL.

The proposal mirrored recent changes made at the collegiate level and would have allowed student-athletes to sign endorsement agreements so long as their teams, schools and/or the OHSAA logo were not used, the endorsements did not happen on school property or in school uniform, and provided there were no endorsements with companies that do not support the mission of education-based athletics, such as casinos, gambling, alcohol, drugs and tobacco.

By rejecting the proposal, Ohio’s student-athletes remain unable sign endorsement deals without losing their amateur status.

“Every year, the referendum voting process shows that our member schools have a voice in this democratic process,” OHSAA executive director Doug Ute said in a release. “Our office was very pleased with the discussion and insights our schools expressed this spring as we met with them about each of the 14 proposals. If NIL is going to enter the Ohio interscholastic landscape, we want the schools to be the ones to make that determination. Whatever we do moving forward, it will include discussion on this issue with our school administrators, Board of Directors, staff and leaders of other state high school athletic associations.”

There were 817 high school principals eligible to vote on NIL during a referendum voting period from May 1-16. Of those eligible, 813 principals voted.

The OHSAA told member schools that 12 of the 14 referendum items were approved.

The two that were struck down were the NIL proposal and a proposed exception to bylaw 4-3-1regarding students attending member public schools that do not sponsor a team sport to petition to play that sport at a public school located in a bordering public school. That referendum item was rejected 406-393 with 14 principals abstaining.

The NIL proposal - which garnered statewide attention the past month - would have allowed student-athletes to sign endorsement agreements so long as the individual met a number of required conditions.

Had it been approved, NIL would've been effective Monday afternoon for approximately 400,000 Ohio student-athletes in grades 7-12.

The discussion about the NIL proposal sparked debateamong high school athletic administrators, coaches and fans this spring from Lake Erie to the Ohio River.

St. Xavier athletic director Brian Reinhart was not surprised by the result.

"In discussions around the school, league, and other schools, there are simply way too many questions to be answered before it can be approved." Reinhart said.

"We always want to put the student-athlete first and help them in any way possible. We recognize the landscape of the situation and that other states are allowing it. Seeing as how Ohio is one of the biggest states for high school athletics, we want to make sure we get it right and that it is appropriate and realistic to fold it into everything else when it comes to high school sports if and when it happens. Dealing with high school student-athletes is much different than pro or college athletes."

Since NIL was presented as an annual referendum item in early April, the OHSAA hosted six regional school administrator meetings where the topic was addressed around the state.

"Ninety-nine percent of the feedback has been a little bit of frustration that we are faced with this," Stried told WCPO on May 2.

Although the NIL proposal was defeated by the OHSAA membership, there still exists the possibility that NIL will be discussed at the legislative or judicial levels for Ohio high school sports.

"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," Stried told WCPO May 2.

"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."

Mariemont athletic director Tom Nerl said the school district voted in favor of the NIL after much debate in its administration on the topic.

"We were not in favor of the NIL, but we figured the OHSAA could control it if the item passed the vote," Nerl said. "I think it would open up a wide range of issues if it passes like it did in the colleges, as the colleges are finding out now. I think the results of the membership are pretty clear that the high school administrations do not think this is something that should be in high school athletics."

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.

Ohio has the fourth-largest state high school association in the country for member schools. There are 26 sanctioned sports (13 girls, 13 boys).

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