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OHSAA denies Ohio high school athletes chance to profit off their name, image and likeness

Posted at 9:18 AM, May 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-17 18:36:43-04

CLEVELAND — The Ohio High School Athletic Association announced Tuesday morning that its proposal that would have allowed athletes in their member schools to profit off their name, image and likeness failed to pass under the latest referendum vote. More than 800 principals from across the state were eligible to vote on the matter. The proposal failed by a margin of 538 to 254.

The proposal, which can be viewed here, would not have allowed athletes to partner with businesses tied to alcohol, gambling or drug use, but they could have promoted all sorts of businesses and brands—from the local pizza shop to a national brand and everything in between.

"With approximately 70% voting no, it seems the time is not right for NIL at Ohio high schools, Joe Vasalotti, coordinator of athletics for Akron Public Schools, said. "I've heard concerns from principals and athletic directors about the potential administrative supervision of NIL and pressure student-athletes might feel to attend schools that provide better 'marketing opportunities' than others."

Under the proposal, there was no limit to how much a teenager could bring in when it comes to endorsements.

“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 news 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.”

It's worth noting that in addition to high schools, some OHSAA member schools are middle schools. Ute previously told News 5 that if the proposal were to pass, those 7th and 8th-grade students in participating OHSAA middle schools would also be eligible to participate and benefit from NIL endorsements.

How We Got Here

Just last year, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling freed up college athletes to make money while in school, creating a brand new industry for marketing and endorsements.

Last month, several administrators gathered in Northeast Ohio to learn what that would look like if a proposal rule change with the Ohio High School Athletic Association were to pass, where many voiced their concerns about the the immediate implementation if the proposal were to pass.

“There was a lot of concern about timing; if this passes, it’s literally effective today,” said Dr. Scott Grant, founder of Triple Threat Leadership and

Triple Threat Leadership helps schools with positive social media presentation and branding, while helps athletic directors understand the space.

“I don’t take a stance, I don’t take a side, but I was really nervous about what would happen if this was thrown on Athletic Directors’ plates so quickly,” he added.

Ohio was one of a dozen states considering the measure and would have joined a handful that already allow it.

In an interview last month, Braly Keller at Opendorse, a nationally recognized NIL marketing company that connects brands with athletes, told News 5 they're seeing a shift spread across the country.

A breakdown of where each state stands when it comes to NIL legislation as of April 25, 2022, as compiled by Opendorse. To view the full report, click here.

Keller told News 5 that 70% of their deals take place in the social media space, meaning NIL deals aren’t just for athletes dominating on the court or between the end zones, but also online.

"It’s that combination of high caliber athletes and high followed athletes that businesses have been looking for," he added.

Keller told News 5 that over the next two months, Connecticut, Washington D.C., Minnesota, Delaware and Oregon are also expected to vote on similar proposals.

Name, Image, Likeness...and LeBron

Coach Dru Joyce brings quite the perspective on name, image, and likeness as the basketball coach at St. Vincent-St. Mary in Akron, coaching LeBron James.

He’s seen how the spotlight can shine a little brighter for some athletes in high school, and admits things would have been different if NIL was allowed during that memorable era in the early 2000s.

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In May 2003, after it was announced the Cleveland Cavaliers would have the #1 overall pick, Lebron James held a news conference where he openly touted, as a high school student, his endorsement deal with Nike, saying ‘I'm so excited about being a Nike guy and I just felt that that was the best fit for me.’

“It was difficult to manage then and had you added this to it, I don't know how I would have survived,” Joyce said.

When Joyce learned that OHSAA was looking into possibly allowing athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness, he said he wasn't necessarily looking forward to it, but knew it was time to start researching and planning for what’s next.

“I think that families should see this as a question mark: It’s not necessarily good or bad, it’s just we haven’t figured it out,” he explained. “We haven’t figured out how to implement it in high school and in a way that would be beneficial to all those involved. We’re not going to get away from this. It’s going to come back and if we haven’t thought through it, it can be a nightmare for someone.”

Joyce added he worries about Ohio missing out on marquee athletes who could end up going to other states with more favorable NIL policies. At the same time, he admits social media has made it harder to put the team first.

"What we talk about here is no one is bigger than team," he explained. "It’s all about the team. That's become a lot more difficult to sell to young athletes because everyone has a brand now."

What's Next

In a conversation Tuesday afternoon with News 5, Ute said that the earliest another NIL proposal could be considered would be next spring, adding that he would not commit to that definitely happening at this time.

"We’re going to continue to talk to our member schools and watch how it unfolds not just at the college level but across the country with other states that have already adopted this," he said.

Grant added that he expects many schools to continue preparing for how they will handle NIL once it does pass, whether that's next year or in a couple years.

"NIL is a driver for life skills that this kids need to learn what applications are: personal branding and social media, contracts, entrepreneurship," he added. "High school level schools will win when they integrate applications of NIL life skills into their curriculum structure."

To view a full list of OHSAA items up for referendum vote, click here.