At Issue: Jury still out on NIL at the high school level

Collins Hill’s Kantrell Webb (23) is unable to block a field goal by North Cobb kicker Mustafa Hohamad (89) during the second half of play Friday, Nov. 10, 2023 at North Cobb High School. (Daniel Varnado/For the AJC)

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Collins Hill’s Kantrell Webb (23) is unable to block a field goal by North Cobb kicker Mustafa Hohamad (89) during the second half of play Friday, Nov. 10, 2023 at North Cobb High School. (Daniel Varnado/For the AJC)

When the GHSA voted to allow players to benefit from the name, imagine and likeness deal Oct. 2, 2023, Georgia became the 30th state in the nation to allow high school athletes to benefit from being, well, themselves.

The decision was met with mixed reviews.

Some saw it as the end of amateurism at the high school level. Others thought it was a good thing, if monitored properly. And most agreed, it’s a changing landscape, and that’s just what we have to deal with.

Eight months later, we’ve seen the early impact of NIL deals, and there really are not many to report. A few players likely have made decent money from NIL deals, but the progression toward serious cash for high school players hasn’t happened.

Not yet. According to some.

The GHSA this week felt the need to issue warnings to schools regarding conglomerates like NIL Club, which could threaten players’ eligibility.

And coaches, at this time, aren’t sure what to think.

Franklin Pridgen, Wesleyan’s head football coach, thinks if monitored properly, there could be positives from the deals. Tucker coach Lonnie Jones sees a chance for wealthy programs to take advantage of the situation. Stephens County coach Wes Tankersley sees everyone is still trying to figure out how to navigate the NIL waters while keeping his Stephens County team funded.

Wesleyan coach Franklin Pridgen

A. “My biggest concern with the NIL deals are third-party bad actors trying to take advantage of the kids and them risking periods of eligibility for a third-party profit. I have a real problem with that. It seems predatory to me. So if there’s some sort of NIL entity out there that is trawling for high school athletes to sign up and affiliate with them, the athlete might lose eligibility by the state, and that’s where it gets bad. That to me is the biggest threat in the high school sports landscape. That’s definitely something we should be watching out for.

“I think we will see a situation where it will be as big as we were worried about initially. We are exploring it. At Wesleyan, we take our mission very seriously. We take our priorities very seriously. … That is not who we are, and I think the NIL situation in high school is something that programs should take a very hard look at. I think every program should act exactly how the GHSA bylaws state and follow those guidelines to the letter. I do feel the NIL situation, there’s room for it to be a positive thing for high school athletes.”

Stephens County coach Wes Tankersley

A. “On my end, I think there’s still a lot of time to figure it out. They passed it middle of last year, so far, I think the jury is still out. I think everyone is still trying to figure it out a little bit. I think there are a lot of unanswered questions about how it is going to impact high school football and our kids and coaches and everything else. There’s still a lot left for people to figure out. I’d say that this school year, you really might start seeing a lot more and learning a lot more about it all.

“I think at this point programs are still getting plans together on how to benefit from the situation, but for us, for me at Stephens County, we are just trying to make sure we raise money for equipment and make sure we have what we need for our athletics program to run properly. We are just trying to make sure we have enough for our teams and to field teams. It will take the next few years to really figure out the NIL stuff. Right now, the players it impacts are the higher-end college-bound players … the really top-tier, high-caliber athletes. Those are the ones now who are likely benefiting from it because their names are already out there, and they have interest from colleges.”

Tucker coach Lonnie Jones

A. “The thing about us, I saw it help one of my kids. He and his family were going through some financial things, and it helped him transition from high school to college. But I haven’t seen people trying to take kids from one school to the other under the guise of an NIL deal. I haven’t lost anyone due to anything like that.”

“I think as long as they allow things like the NIL deals, I think there will be issues where programs will pay players to transfer into their district. I do see that being a problem down the line, presenting an issue keeping kids in your area … especially the schools which depend on the kids from the area staying there. So I do see it as a major problem down the line when teams that have the type of money and can raise money to spend on kids to bring them into their team or program.

“It has changed the attitude of some players. I’ve seen kids go out there and look for it and they talk about NIL deals rather than issues they should be focusing on, like being a good player or a good football team. I think it prompts some kids to listen to fake offers and promote themselves rather than the team. They start with YouTube videos and Instagram or TikTok and promoting themselves, and sometimes I think they look at it no longer as a game they play because they want to have fun, but it has become a business in high school now.”