Young athletes profit
Larry McKenzie, the Minneapolis North boys basketballÂ coach, spent 42 years training highÂ school athletes. Over his lengthyÂ career-which included severalÂ games against the MinnehahaÂ Academy Redhawks-McKenzieÂ secured a record six state championship titles. Nonetheless, theÂ Minnesota Basketball CoachesÂ Hall of Fame member announcedÂ in July that he’s decided to “hangÂ up the whistle”.
The news came less than oneÂ month after the Minnesota StateÂ High School League (MSHSL)Â approved a policy that authorizesÂ young athletes to profit from theÂ use of their name, image, and likeness (NIL) in company partnerships, product promotions, andÂ more.
“[The new NIL policy] was aÂ big part of my decision-making ofÂ getting out,” McKenzie revealedÂ to Minnesota Public Radio. “IÂ personally just think it’s going toÂ create a lot of additional chaos.”
The debate surrounding student-athletes and NIL first started at the college level. In JuneÂ 2021, the Supreme Court ruledÂ in a unanimous verdict that theÂ NCAA could not restrict the typesÂ or amounts of compensation that aÂ student athlete is entitled to.
Since then, the issue has trickled down to younger athletes.Â Many states have banned highÂ school students from making money in connection to their sport.Â However, Alaska, California,Â Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas,Â Louisiana, Nebraska, New Jersey,Â New York, Utah, and now Minnesota recently permitted studentsÂ to benefit financially from NILÂ without jeopardizing their athleticÂ eligibility.
Following the approval of NILÂ deals, some prominent young athletes have cashed in considerablyÂ on this opportunity. Minnehaha’sÂ own Hercy Miller signed a $2Â million contract with technologyÂ company Web Apps America during his senior year of high schoolÂ after committing to play basketball at Tennessee State. If theÂ MSHSL had passed its NIL policyÂ a few years sooner, Miller-asÂ well as Minnehaha star athletes Jalen Suggs and Chet Holmgren-would have undoubtedlyÂ signed big-time contracts earlierÂ in their careers.
Nonetheless-despite theÂ financial opportunities NILÂ provides to high school athletes- many Minnesotans, likeÂ McKenzie, have questionedÂ whether this policy bolsters orÂ detracts from the culture of highÂ school sports.
Molly DiNardo-a Minnehaha Academy senior who participates in Cross Country, Nordic Skiing, andÂ Track and Field-does not support high school athletes receivingÂ payment in connection with theirÂ sport.
“Why am I not getting paid?”Â DiNardo joked. “I don’t thinkÂ high school athletes should getÂ paid. It puts too much pressureÂ on students who already have tooÂ much going on…I only support itÂ if I’m the one getting paid!”
Further, a local avid sports fanÂ raises a poignant question aboutÂ infusing amateur sports with largeÂ amounts of money.
“Is introducing lots of moneyÂ without a plan helpful?” the sportsÂ fan questioned. “Some peopleÂ would say that [NIL] is more fairÂ and equitable-that athletes areÂ getting their fair share-whichÂ I get. However, it comes downÂ to the question of if adding significant amounts of money [toÂ amateur sports] is what’s best forÂ people in the long run?”
What does the new policy entail?
Technically, NIL deals do notÂ pay students to play. In fact, if aÂ student receives profits contingentÂ upon athletic performance, theyÂ relinquish their eligibility to compete. Instead-like the acronymÂ suggests-NIL deals primarilyÂ compensate students for the useÂ of their name, image, and likenessÂ in product endorsements. Additionally, the newÂ MSHSL policyÂ grants students the ability to derive revenue from coaching, selling autographs, and hiring professional representation.
Included in the same policyÂ are several stipulations aimed atÂ protecting the amateur status ofÂ high school athletes. The MSHSLÂ declared that payment-or theÂ promise of prospective payment-Â cannot be used to persuade an
athlete to attend a certain school Â and, during NIL promotions, students are prohibited from mentioning school involvement. Additionally, an NIL deal must notÂ prompt a student to miss sportsÂ practice, competitions, team obligations, or academic commitments.
The MSHSL also maintainsÂ that athletes are barred from endorsing gaming, gambling, alcohol, or tobacco companies asÂ well as weapons, cannabis-relatedÂ products, or items from the schoolÂ they attend.
What concerns doesÂ NIL raise?
According to the MSHSL, theÂ conditions included in their NILÂ guidelines maintain the amateurÂ status of young athletes. Nonetheless, an anonymous coach at a local private high school anticipates some repercussions from the new policy.
“I would envision that there’s aÂ bunch of things that [the MSHSL]Â missed that they didn’t realize, butÂ they will realize after they are confronted by it,” voiced the anonymous coach. “IÂ do think that if you use someone’sÂ name, image, or likeness to yourÂ benefit that that person should beÂ compensated. So, in theory, I likeÂ the idea, but I think [the MSHSL]Â has opened up a can of worms thatÂ they don’t know the consequencesÂ yet.”
According to McKenzie, aÂ part of this “can of worms” thatÂ the MSHSL has opened up is anÂ increased lack of equity betweenÂ schools. Wealthier schools willÂ likely receive more NIL deals and,Â therefore, will attract more high-caliber student-athletes.
DespiteÂ the efforts of the MSHSL to prevent recruiting, McKenzie foresees it still happening informally.
“Everybody knows there areÂ already outside influences [in highÂ school sports],” stated McKenzieÂ to MPR. “[NIL] is not intendedÂ for [recruiting], but it’s going toÂ happen.”
What is the future ofÂ high school athletics?
Ultimately, McKenzie forecasts that- because of NIL-theÂ culture and decision-making behind high school athletics will beÂ forever changed.
“We’re already dealing withÂ who gets the most shots and whoÂ gets the most playing time,” McKenzie disclosed. “Now, we’ve gottaÂ deal with who makes the mostÂ money?”
Similarly, the anonymous coach is concernedÂ about the spirit of high school athletics straying away from the loveÂ of the sport.
“High school has always beenÂ really fun for me to coach because kids play [for the love ofÂ the sport] and for that reasonÂ only,” expressed the coach. “Now,Â does NIL add another reason forÂ why students have to play? Instead of being passionate aboutÂ your sport, is it now to makeÂ money? That’s kind of sad to me.”