Gene Smith Happy Ohio State Athletes Are Benefitting from Name, Image and Likeness, But Believes National Regulation is Needed

Although the name, image, and likeness advantages of college athletes have created a new set of challenges for his athletic department, Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith believes working through these challenges is worthwhile for the opportunities they have created for the Buckeyes.

Ohio athletes have benefited from the NIL as much as anyone in the state; As of January 23, 225 different athletes in Ohio have earned a total of $2,985,559 in total compensation for none, more than any other school. It helped these athletes support themselves and their families — and for non-full scholarship athletes, it helped cover the costs of attending Ohio — which Smith said makes him feel good.

“It was really never a pressure for me on the NIL. It was about learning. It was about making sure we were teaching our student athletes the right way,” Smith said last week. “It’s heating up, it really is. It’s not exhausting, it’s a challenge just to stay ahead of the curve constantly.”

Given this, Smith believes that allowing athletes to capitalize on their name, image and form has been entirely positive for college sports. But there are issues he believes must be addressed to prevent the NIL from negatively impacting college sports, particularly in employment.

While NCAA rules still prevent schools from directly paying athletes and from using NIL deals as recruiting inducements, the NCAA has taken a mostly laissez-faire approach to regulating the NIL, creating an environment that Smith described as the “Wild West.”

Smith is particularly concerned about the increase in collegiate groups across the country that are being used to fund NIL deals for recruits provided they attend certain schools. While Ohio State discourages backers from making do-nothing deals with recruits, he also recognizes that it can put the Buckeyes at a competitive disadvantage if other schools do.

“In that private space with groups where you see some element of recruiting happening, there’s no doubt we were behind, because we weren’t doing it. We don’t encourage it,” Smith said. So how do we make sure we stay on the right path, for the NCAA rules, we stay on the right path. Because still technically, you’re not allowed to recruit with these temptations. So there are a lot of issues.”

In order to help facilitate deals for athletes already on campus while still following the letter of the law, Ohio State recently created the “NIL Edge,” a group of administrators that will help connect brands and donors to Ohio athletes. He believes Ohio State can make a compelling show to recruits about how to help athletes make money without making any actual promises that would violate NIL rules.

“If you’re recruiting, you’re coming to Columbus, Ohio, Ohio, you’re going to have those conversations with TreVeyon Henderson or others to say, ‘Hey, that’s what I get here,'” Smith said. If you are an entrepreneur and you are willing to get out there and do this thing the right way, you are going to be very successful. If that is your interest.”

Smith said the Ohio Department of Compliance has also been in contact with multiple groups interested in funding NIL deals for Ohio athletes.

“I know there are emerging groups in our market,” Smith said. “A two of them have contacted our compliance people and the SWAT team (the Ohio State Team that reviews NIL Deal Athletes Deals) to try to make sure they’re doing it the right way, and that their focus is more right on our current student-athletes, not recruiting.”

However, Smith believes that more regulations are necessary to prevent conscription from becoming a financial arms race among the NIL collectives. Peers on the NCAA’s Division I board appear to agree, with the NCAA announcing Friday that the board has asked the Division I board to review “how its name, image, and likeness policies have affected student-athletes,” citing concerns that “certain activity may not violate the Namespace, image, and similarity not only NCAA recruiting rules, particularly those prohibiting enhanced participation, but may also affect the student-athlete experience negatively in some ways.”

Smith said Wednesday, however, that he does not believe NCAA legislation is the answer to regulating the NIL. With changing NIL laws already in place in more than half of the 50 states, Smith believes federal legislation is necessary to properly regulate the NIL in college sports — although he recognizes that this may not be forthcoming, given that Congress has more important issues to deal with.

“I hope at some point, we’ll have federal legislation,” Smith said. “I don’t think the NCAA is the answer in this particular case. I think it has to be federal legislation. It’s not going to happen now because of what’s happening in Washington. But maybe it will happen at some point. I think there are enough politicians who are paying attention and they care, but It will take time.”

Smith believes that without stricter regulations, the NIL could force sports departments to change how they operate if they want to recruit at the elite level.

“We got a hold of the spur side,” Smith said. “That’s the difference between us and the NFL, the NBA, and everyone else; we’re hiring, we’re not recruiting. So how do we find a way to remove that part of it? And so we need help in that area. The whole model in a big way. Because if we have to shift all of our focus to supporting groups, it’s just going to be a completely new financial model.”

In the meantime, though, Ohio State should try to strike the right balance between doing what it needs to do to continue attracting top recruits and doing what’s best for its athletes while ensuring no NCAA violations.

“What we have to do is make sure that we don’t lose ground in our competitive advantage in the field. But also do what’s right for our student-athletes and protect them and make sure they take advantage of it in the right way,” Smith said.

Smith also knows that whether he likes it or not, the college athletics landscape will continue to change and Ohio State will have to adapt to the times. But in the process, he doesn’t want the Buckeyes to lose sight of their primary goals: winning on the field of play and educating athletes to prepare them for life after off-field sports.

“NIL has changed our landscape and we will continue to change it, continue to learn from and grow,” Smith said. “So it’s just going to be a whole new ball game as we go forward – a lot of changes – and what we have to do sort of is get comfortable with the unease and adjust, and make sure we keep our core values ​​and mission core at the heart of what we do. And that’s our student athletes.”