PIAA puts NIL debate on hold until October

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Wednesday, September 14, 2022 | 7:00 AM


A groundbreaking Name, Image and Likeness policy proposed by the PIAA must pass three separate votes to take effect, but that second vote won’t happen this week as initially thought.

The PIAA board meets online Wednesday, but the new NIL policy wasn’t included on this month’s agenda. PIAA executive director Bob Lombardi said the policy was excluded because the meeting is virtual via Zoom and the NIL policy calls for in-person debate.

“The Board wanted to deal with time sensitive issues,” Lombardi said in an email, “and have more productive in-person dialog for some of the other items that we discussed in July.”

Proposed changes to the competitive-balance rule also were left off Wednesday’s agenda. The board is scheduled to meet again Oct. 11 at the PIAA office in Mechanicsburg.

The NIL policy was approved by the board July 13 on a first reading. The guidelines would let athletes receive compensation for commercial endorsements, promotional activities and social media presence, among other opportunities.

In July, the PIAA said the policy could be enacted as soon as October, but more recently the staff said there is no set timeline. If the policy were eventually approved, it could take effect immediately or be delayed until July 1, 2023, PIAA associate executive director Melissa Mertz said in a recent Q&A with news media.

To make the process move faster, the board could take the rare step of suspending protocol and passing the policy on a second reading at a future meeting, skipping the third reading entirely.

Mertz, Lombardi and other PIAA staff members in late August explained more about the proposed NIL policy and reasons they believe it’s necessary.

“We’re in a very different landscape than we were 20 or 25 years ago or when some of us might have played high school athletics,” Mertz said. “You simply relied on the local newspapers and radio stations to talk about the athletes and their accomplishments. Now kids have the ability due to social media to just simply brand themselves.”

Lombardi said the wording of the policy likely will change somewhat before final approval, which is why the PIAA anticipated the standard three-vote process.

A growing list of states already have similar NIL policies in place.

The PIAA hoped to avoid involvement by state legislators by taking a proactive approach. Mertz said Pennsylvania already has legislation that deals with NIL for college athletics but that doesn’t cover high school.

“This is exactly why we drafted the language,” she said. “We felt that we wanted to be in control of developing the language, because we feel we know the high school athletic space very well. We didn’t want language forced on us or our member schools or something that’s maybe difficult to deal with or that might have a ripple effect into different areas of our bylaws.”

Under the proposed PIAA guidelines, school employees and anyone affiliated with a member school would be barred from soliciting or negotiating an NIL deal for a student. They also cannot pay an athlete for use of their name, image and likeness. That includes coaches, alumni, booster clubs and administrators.

Also, athletes cannot reference the PIAA, their high school or high school nickname in any NIL-related product. Athletes also would be barred from wearing school uniforms or “school-identifying apparel.”

That ban includes social media accounts, if they’re selling access to advertisers.

“It has to be sterile from anything associated with their school, school team, mascot or any of that stuff,” Mertz said. “There are probably some options out there, maybe a new Twitter account. But it has to be clean from anything related to the school.”

Still, there’s no guarantee the PIAA board approves the policy. Ohio high schools overwhelmingly rejected an NIL policy for that state in May, meaning athletes there remained unable to sign deals without losing their amateur status.

Lombardi has said the PIAA consulted with neighbors who’ve approved an NIL policy, including New York and New Jersey. He said the guidelines are intended to prevent students from making a costly mistake.

“A big part of this for us is education,” Lombardi said. “To be proactive for the family and the student, so that they don’t make a mistake moving to the next level. We have met with Temple, Pitt and Penn State repeatedly on this, and they’re all telling us at the collegiate level it’s the Wild, Wild West.

“We don’t want that to happen to a family that makes a mistake and causes ineligibility for their student, either at the high school level or if they’re matriculating on.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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