The executive director of the National Federation of High School Associations believes a small number of elite high school athletes are already benefiting from their name, image and likeness — better known as NIL — in some form, and discouraged formal NIL legislation for high school athletes.
There is no current legislation allowing high school athletes to engage in contracts pertaining to NIL, but conversations about young athletes being paid have surged to the forefront this summer with six states enacting laws July 1 that allowed collegiate athletes to make money.
Interim NCAA legislation became effective on the same day, allowing college athletes to benefit off NIL.
Karissa Niehoff, the National Federation of High School Associations executive director, drew a line of distinction between the NFHS — which governs much of public high school sports in the United States — and the NCAA.
“Most high school athletes are not adults … We want to really carve out high school participation as different from college participation,” Niehoff said during a webinar Monday. “The mission participation is a little bit different. Well over 95% of our high school student-athletes will not enter into the collegiate competitive experience.”
Kids who do go on to play college sports enter an NIL gray area — the recruitment process — which is one of Niehoff’s primary concerns, along with eligibility issues and the potential for exacerbating inequities between wealthy and poor communities.
“We’re concerned that if high school students see something shiny in the way of an NIL contract before them, it can detract from students choosing where they want to go in their next phase, what’s the best school for them,” Niehoff said. “We don’t want agents representing contracts to be the lead influencer.”
She hopes state legislators do not write NIL laws and thus overstep educators. Potential state laws allowing high school athletes to benefit from NIL, she said, would compromise regulations and bylaws passed by 51 state associations in the NFHS that don’t allow for high school athletes to be paid.
With state association bylaws already in place, Niehoff believes flirting with professional contracts could jeopardize high school athletes’ eligibility.
“There could be a mess,” she said.
In more than 45 minutes addressing reporters, Niehoff did not offer a clear opinion as to whether she believed NIL legislation will ever reach the high school level, or if there would be any potential positives if it did.
She was asked what would be the difference between a talented school band member making money off their talent and someone who plays sports.
“I do not personally know of musicians who make money while wearing the high school uniform. That’s what we’re discouraging,” Niehoff said. “If they go out and give music lessons and that’s who they are and they make money, that’s fantastic. But they are not making money while teaching music wearing the band uniform. That’s where we want to draw a very strong line.”