That headline was a statement said to me recently by a company that provices "NIL Education" for student-athletes, and to be honest, I got super upset.
It honestly makes me mad just writing it again.
And it’s been constantly circling my thoughts as I head home from the past two weeks speaking at High School Athletic Director Association conferences around the country.
Atlantic City to help out the New Jersey AD’s.
Hershey to speak with the Pennsylvania AD’s.
And straight from there to Coralville to work with Iowa AD’s.
While it’s been an absolute blessing to support Athletic Directors further by helping them understand NIL at the HS level and to clarify where to go next with all of this information / discussion they’re getting thrown at them from all angles, it’s also been super frustrating.
And here’s why…
As I sat in the airport this morning reflecting on my hundreds of recent conversations with AD’s, I kept thinking,
“Why is everyone making this so hard for high schools, and more specifically AD’s?”
For many that read that statement, they honestly just won’t get it.
If you’ve never been an AD before, you have no idea what it’s like. Even after working under one of the best as their assistant AD, I still didn’t fully understand it all until I was in that AD role.
Sure - NIL at the HS level is important for AD’s to understand and prepare for, but, there’s a caveat to that.
The daily agenda for an AD is unknown.
No matter how you want to script it out, it will never go as planned.
Often starting with a less than enjoyable email from something that happened the night before, coupled with duties throughout the day that often have nothing to do with athletics….
Helping with a fight in the cafeteria.
Covering a class because there aren’t any subs.
Lining the football field.
(Yes, some AD’s have to do this. I painted the lines on the football field – I even had “paint pants” I put on to do it because I had to clean the machine out 3 times because we used different colors).
Sitting outside the bathroom managing the weekly drug tests because it falls under their “other duties as assigned”.
Or potentially even driving a bus route because a driver called in sick and there is no one else to do it. (Again – yes, some AD’s drive bus routes).
Add those elements on top of all the other work they have to do and prepare for in regards to the schedules, officials, cancellations, a new coaching opening that wasn’t expected, their budget dwindling earlier than it should, a rogue booster club member who doesn’t think the AD should have any oversight, a board member who wants to “talk about coach evaluations”… and the list goes on.
And that’s all before 3:00 pm. (Sometimes before 10:00 am).
But then the bell rings, school lets out, and the second shift of their job starts.
If you have never really thought about it, high school AD’s work a 1st and 2nd shift job pretty much 6 days a week. (Sometimes 7…. And we wonder why they burn out?).
Now you may be asking –
“Ok, Scott, I get it. But what does this have to do with NIL.”
Well, here you go.
Understanding NIL is important.
Being proactive in preparing an educational plan is important.
But so are a lot of other things for AD’s that take precedence over that.
When I started working with High School AD’s prior to NIL even being around, many of them said,
“We get it.
We need to do something to prepare. It’s coming.
But honestly, it’s not a priority for us right now.”
And I 100% agreed with them.
I also understand why it’s still not top of their list, nor should it be.
But these last two weeks confirmed to me that what I’m doing is needed, because AD’s need help with the following areas I'm going to outline below, and as a former AD and someone whose career has somehow hit about every point where this all comes together, I believe I can make a difference….
I’m going to reference these “help” areas as the #TripleThreat position for AD’s and School Administrators in NIL preparation.
If you can focus on these three things, then I believe you can add value in whatever path you choose to go for your district, just like the way we teach kids the triple threat position in basketball.
If you don’t know what the Triple Threat position is, then this lead in may have gone way over your head, but for most AD’s, they’re chuckling right now.
So let’s Dribble, Pass, Shoot… or for Triple Threat Leadership Purposes –
Add Value. (AV)
Build Relationships. (BR)
Create Opportunities. (CO)
1: Dribble (Add Value) –
Understand the State HS Athletic Associations NIL Policy
(and any state laws if you have them) .
This is often best done if/when AD’s can be together, as a group, where they are able to further discuss how this may impact them, and feel supported by the only other group of people who understand what they do on a daily basis.
It’s always very interesting when I speak at state conferences where there has been an NIL regulation approved that there is still a large overall lack of understanding of what that means for the AD’s / District, and even the state from a compliance standpoint.
And I believe that’s on the State Athletic Associations, not the AD’s. The regulation often gets changed, the state association sends out information and a press release, may talk about it in regional or district meetings for a short period of time, declare a preferred educational provider, but that's not enough.
The education has to be continuous, and it has to come from the state athletic association compliance / commissioners, in some manner.
It’s especially interesting when the state policy requires some type of disclosure, or requirement of duty for the AD causing them to have to consider how this changes / adds to their workflow / processes / procedures.
They are being asked to do something, but many of them don’t know why, or what that actually means. Time and time again I've talked with AD's all over the country, and they just don't know.
And I don't think it's their fault.
Case in point – I listened to a guy tell a packed room of AD’s that they had to submit any NIL contracts to his agency because it was state law, and none of them even knew who he was.
They had never heard that before, and it wasn't written anywhere in their state policy. Interestingly enough, he was a guest of their state athletic association who was sitting right next to him, and they didn't say a word.
Let’s face it - I’m a policy junky.
I completed my doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies, literally writing every paper on some element related to the development, implementation, and evaluation of policies specifically related to interscholastic athletics.
Riveting, I know.
But I loved it, because I felt like It helped AD’s and school administrators.
And when you really dig into educational and school policies, the development process is unique and messy, the implementation of it is usually all over the place, and there often isn’t a clear metric being used to evaluate what “success means” in regard to that policy as part of school district applications.
I could go on and on here about the impact of policy development, implementation, and evaluation at the state and local level, but I’ll save that for another Doc’s dose.
Pass (Build Relationships) –
Ask a lot of questions of your State Athletic Associations.
Now I don’t mean ask lots of questions of the state’s “NIL exclusive educational partner”, but of the actual State Athletic Association itself. It’s their bylaw, not the 3rd parties, so if you’re an AD in a state and your State Athletic Association deflects you to a 3rd party, that’s fine, but, please know, they don’t govern you.
Most aren't super connected to your state, and work in a lot of different areas. They are experts in NIL, or a specific element of it, and can offer some valuable services, but, the state associations govern the regulations / bylaws, and need to be able to clarify and fully understand every intricacy of those to communicate and educate the membership.
I'm a believer that it's on the State's Athletic Association to handle these questions from an “internal perspective” in some way.
Too often these educational providers are built in a way to get down to the kids and parents.
And that’s fine, but, their services should come AFTER the state athletic association helps their state AD’s fully understand the policies THEY have put into place.
3 - Shoot (Create Opportunities) –
Think about what you NEED to do next, not what some 3rd party business or consultant is telling you to do, which often includes their services. (myself included).
Am I an “NIL education consultant”.
And while that’s a small part of what Triple Threat does, the life skill piece of Adding Value, Building Relationships, and Creating Opportunities with all that we do is tied together.
Do I offer NIL prep kits, workshops, social media and branding presentations, etc. etc.
Absolutely, I do that too.
But, I don’t push it on them. If it helps them, and they feel like it fits for their district, then I’m here.
I always tell AD’s in my presentations and workshops that it’s ok that every school district is different.
They’re all trying to do the same thing and that’s serving students in the best capacity that
they can, but that looks a lot of different ways.
Different communities have different unique attributes and pressures.
Different administration / school boards have different priorities.
And NIL is going to fit differently within their school district compared to others.
This isn’t just a plug and play type of thing. It’s not about the types of deals, or students / people pushing this opportunity.
I’m talking about the AD and the district’s plan on how they are going to integrate NIL education into their already overflowing To-Do lists.
The entire environment has just become too muddy, and that’s on the NIL support out there.
People on podcasts that don’t know what High School educational-based athletics is all about, and ripping on AD’s / schools / states for not pushing NIL rights and helping their students monetize.
“New” experts in the field every day, working to provide the “golden ticket” to help the school through their new app, or online course.
I’ve not found a single AD that is excited about shipping out another online course to their coaches / staff to take. I’m not saying it’s not a good resource, as I have one, but, it’s not right for everyone.
A lot of AD’s are nervous, and rightfully so.
They’re nervous about doing something wrong that jeopardizes not only their schools and their student-athletes, but also their own jobs.
The information presented by that "NIL state agency leader" I referenced earlier gave quite a bit of incorrect information that to be honest, would make anyone want to quit their job immediately.
I walked out of there thinking, “I’m honestly really glad I’m here to help, because that is what NIL Education SHOULD NOT be about.”
What happened in that meeting doesn’t do anything other than scare AD’s & school admins even more, and make them want to tell every kid or person who asks them about NIL to get out of their office.
And I don’t blame them one bit.
This isn’t an easy thing.
And a school administrator’s time is extremely limited on things that aren’t impacting their every day work with students / teachers / coaches in their building.
So the maximization of that time in regards to how they put together an educational plan has to be at the forefront and concise.
Here’s what you need to know.
Here’s where you need to start the discussion with your administration.
Here are things you should consider doing next.
And that’s where my focus has been, and will continue to always be.
Sometimes I wonder if the way I approach all of this is worth it, but then I have an AD come up to me after my presentation this past week, who says…
“Scott – Wow – Thank you. You have no idea how much we needed you to be here, because honestly, we feel like we’re just continually being taken advantage of with such little support focused on us. Let’s face it, no one understands what we do daily. But you do, and you make all of this so much easier to consider, and we appreciate your support.”
That’s enough for me to continue to push forward.
There are great companies in the NIL Education space who I believe really do want to help and can add a lot of value.
But, there are a lot of companies who are missing the application and understanding of the HS level, and are doing more harm than good.
It’s not the same as college. And it shouldn’t be. Too many are trying to have their cake and eat it too.
So AD’s – this is for you:
Bug the heck out of your state athletic association and make them provide clarity to you about every single line in your state’s policy. Every single line. Make them answer, don’t let them defer you to a third party. If it’s their policy, they need to understand every integral piece of it, and they need to be able to communicate that with you. NIL Education providers have their place, but we can never take over for your state association.
Start discussions with your admin team. Make sure you, your principal, and your superintendent are on some level of similar understanding, because there will need to be a united front if you’re going to move forward with anything in this space.
Start discussions with your coaches to ensure they understand the state policy and your expectations from an athletic department perspective. I have a feeling this is going to get sideways at the high school level from a coaching perspective more so than anything else. AAU, recruiting, NIL valuations that are popping up, parent pressure… it’s going to be a lot.
Analyze your community and school to figure out what the support needs to look like, and how best they will digest that. Short term, long term, quick hits, in person, online, etc.
Build your NIL educational plan for your stakeholders---- all of them, because that’s all you can do.
NIL 101 – Staff / Students / Parents / Community Members
NIL 102 – Policy / Procedural Development
Life Skill Development Applications – Curricular Based
And finally - continue to focus on adding value and application to the Life Skill Development within your school. You already do this, but when you remove the “NIL” glamor, everything it’s built on is about life skills…. Social media, personal branding, financial literacy, communication, legal contracts, etc…and those are good things for every student to learn, not just to maximize their NIL ability.
The NIL phenomena at the HS level is an opportunity to continue to Add Value to what schools do best…. Educate and prepare students for life.
Don’t let NIL make that cloudier, but rather, let it add application power to your continued missions.
Always here to help.
firstname.lastname@example.org | 419.306.3002
Dr. Scott Grant, or “Doc G” as his students call him, is former high school teacher, coach, and athletic director turned college professor in educational leadership / social media / branding, and founded Triple Threat Leadership, LLC. (www.triplethreatleadership.com) & NIL-Education (www.nil-education.com).
Need resources for Personal Branding & Social Media Education? Check out Dr. Grant's "Branding of ME" course, utilized by over 10,000 students, and integrated into hundreds of school curriculums across the country.
Learn more ---> https://www.triplethreatleadership.com/branding-of-me-course
Need help navigating Name, Image, and Likeness and preparing your program? Dr. Grant offers services to assist, and will develop specific tools / resources that fit your districts need.
Learn more ---> https://www.nil-education.com/nil-services
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