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Expanding the NIL Club Beyond NCAA

Typically, when discussing NIL, there’s a presumption that the conversation is only really involving NCAA college athletes. This makes sense since the NCAA is the largest college athletic association in college athletics, but it does not have a monopoly on the space.

As a recap, NIL stands for name, image, and likeness, and as of July 2021, has been all the rage in college athletics. In the past, student-athlete “compensation” was limited to scholarships for tuition, books, room, and board, but nothing else. However, this changed in 2021, and in fact, is still changing. As a result of a recent ruling from the Supreme Court of the United States, student-athletes at NCAA schools can be paid for the use of their name, image, and/or likeness (“NIL”). What the Court held in Alston v NCAA was that, in short, schools may not limit students’ ability to receive compensation for their NIL, nor may it declare students ineligible for competition because they received compensation.

Towards the end of July, a club athlete, more specifically a club lacrosse player, joined the ranks of student-athletes with NIL deals.

The Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association, or MCLA for short, is an athletic association, much like the NCAA, and has three divisions and numerous participating institutions including big-name schools that do not have NCAA lacrosse programs such as Alabama, and Tennessee, where this story comes from, WVU, The University of Pittsburgh, and Clemson.

The MCLA differs from the NCAA in that the MCLA is non-varsity. Varsity teams receive funding, access to facilities, and equipment through the school’s athletic budget as opposed to non-varsity/club teams that rely on funding from student life or otherwise from the members themselves, much like other campus clubs. Additionally, the MCLA does not have a GPA requirement. There may be other differences as well, such as practice schedules, though this is at the discretion of the individual leagues and member institutions.

On July 26, 2022, it was announced that Jackson Zimmer, a sophomore midfielder for the University of Tennessee, inked the MCLA’s first NIL deal with Baltimore-based company East Coast Dyes, which is a well-known lacrosse apparel and equipment company.

Per Zimmer’s pitch, which can be viewed here, the MCLA is an “untapped market,” and since the news broke at the end of July, more club athletes have been reaching out seeking to tap into the NIL market as well. More companies should take advantage of this “untraditional channel”, given that there are over 150 teams spanning 2 countries in the association.

To that very same end, more MCLA players should take a page from Zimmer’s book and look to set up a pitch, send a deck, a video recording, anything really to take advantage of the moment to advocate and bet on themselves.

As it relates to the deal itself, NIL generally requires that the athlete advertise the company on social media and in return get some sort of payment though it is not always money. For Zimmer, he gets unreleased gear, which if anyone knows how expensive lacrosse gear can be, is a pretty solid gig.

Worth noting is that NIL's perks and profits do not necessarily have to be monetary. For example, while at The University of Pittsburgh, Kenny Pickett had a deal with a local hotel and restaurant The Oaklander, where he would get free meals and treat his team to dinners before games. More students should try pitching to companies to see if there is any interest in having a sponsored athlete. There are plenty of companies that could use the exposure, and again, given that perks do not have to be monetary, can allow even smaller businesses to get some playing time. Hopefully, more businesses will look to sponsor MCLA athletes as popularity in lacrosse continues to grow exponentially.

Stephon Burton is a 2022 graduate of Duquesne University School of Law in Pittsburgh, PA. He obtained his undergraduate degree from Washington & Jefferson College in 2019. He can be contacted via email at [email protected] or on Twitter @stephonburton

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