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Oklahoma's Lincoln Riley: NIL Will Be a Good Thing, but It Comes With Red Flags

Schools were "hung out to dry" by the NCAA without any real infrastructure to implement a whole new era of college athletics, but education is the key now.

When it comes to the new Name, Image and Likeness legislations — or lack thereof — schools “got hung out to dry” by the NCAA, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley says.

Riley made his comments Wednesday at Big 12 Media Days in response to questions about the association’s decision to open up NIL opportunities for student-athletes on July 1.

For the most part, OU was ready. Oklahoma state lawmakers drafted legislation, and the university since last fall had in place a program it calls The Foundry.

But there’s no question the Sooners were caught off guard by the NCAA’s June 30 decision — an 11th-hour white flag following years of opposition and slow-playing the NIL debate.

“We got hung out to dry with all these rules,” Riley said. “They are literally telling us what the rules are a day before we announce this thing, which is insane. It is what it is and we made the most of it. But I think it was more trying to understand our state laws, our policies, the university policy which does mirror our state law, how that’s going to come into play, how we have to adapt, the role that we can have, the role that we can’t have.”

NIL allows student-athletes in all sports to broker their own independent marketing and promotional deals. The possibilities are endless, from social media influencing to autographs to brand logo apparel, players are now empowered to make whatever money they can outside of the university structure.

At Big 12 Media Days, most of the football players said they were still examining how to proceed — with caution — because they don’t want to take a misstep that would render them ineligible with the NCAA. Many are waiting to see what opportunities come their way; others are waiting to see what other athletes are doing.

Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler, on the other hand, is a pioneer in the field, unveiling his own line of apparel, selling personal appearances on Cameo and even working out a deal to sign autographs and take pictures for money at the National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago, IL, on July 31.

At least Rattler appears to be getting good advice. He immediately teamed up with super agent Leigh Steinberg’s group, Steinberg Sports and Entertainment.

Some states have enacted NIL legislation. Some have not. Some want to but are waiting for more guidance and perhaps precedence. Some are still hesitating. The NCAA is hoping congress establishes a national standard. For now, schools are left up to whatever rules they come up with, or are adhering to state-established guidelines

But for now, it’s the Wild West: with no oversight, no regulation, no standards — and almost no rules that aren’t somewhat open to interpretation. The strongest advice so far for athletes looking to cash in has been painfully simple: “check with your compliance department and report everything.”

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“The NIL, on the outside, to me, it’s almost like it has a negative connotation to it,” Riley said. “I know it doesn’t with our athletes, but to everybody else it feels like a dark cloud. And it’s not a bad thing. This is a good thing. We just have to do it the right way. We have to educate. We have to do all that. I like the plan we put in place. We have to be able to adjust.”

Riley is intelligent enough to see the potential pitfalls. Wherever there are rules, there will be someone trying to break them, or at least bend them. Wherever there are no rules, there will be someone coming up with ways to take advantage of the system. There have already been reports of athletes offered deals from shady sources. Corruption seems inevitable, and unsuspecting athletes will be the victims. Income taxes are involved now, meaning young people could engage in illicit activity (not paying taxes) without even realizing it.

And if key players are ruled ineligible by their compliance departments (or by the NCAA), that obviously affects the teams.

“There’s two trains of thought on it,” Riley said. “The first train of thought is that you’re worried about all that stuff because the monitoring isn’t in place and this came so quickly without the infrastructure built in to handle it, and we’ve obviously seen that people are going to bend and push the rules in this game. That’s pretty clear.

“The other train of thought is that it may help the people who are following the rules. Now, if I’m a player that’s tempted to get paid in my recruitment illegally, should I even mess with it when I know I can just make the money legally and not jeopardize my name or my eligibility or all of that? In some way, it may even it out a little bit, if you will. I think the purists hope that.

“But the reality is that we’re going to have to have some lines and regulation, especially when it comes to the recruiting piece, for this to work and not be a mess.”

As athletes in Arlington showed this week, the initial rush to monetize oneself has plateaued — for now.

Riley hopes to see more recruits and athletes proceed with caution.

“I don’t want to generalize, but a lot of athletes, I think, felt like, ‘I’m going to go post something on social media,’ or, ‘I’m going to show up at some event and they are going to hand me some cash and that’s going to be it.’ Oh, by the way, there’s taxes and attorneys and accountants and your Pell Grant and agents.

“ … We all know, to make money, it’s not that simple. I think that disconnect is starting to get better. But we are going to have to work together. There’s a lot of education pieces that have to happen. We’re going to learn about it. It’s going to evolve. But I love the plan at OU that we put into place.

“I think educating myself (is important) so we can explain it to our guys and they knew what to expect from us, what they are going to get from us, what we need from them, and then what they are going to have to do outside of us. It’s about trying to draw those clear lines. That was the toughest part, and it still is.

“Listen, some of those lines are still blurry as hell. Let’s just call it what it is. They are. Hopefully at some point, we get a standard set of rules and all this state-to-state business goes out the window.”