MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Proponents say Name, Imagine and Likeness laws have leveled the playing field for college athletes. Some critics worry it’s given boosters too big of a role on campus. CBS News tackled this complicated issue that’s changed college athletics.
Miami lawyer John Ruiz has made a fortune litigating against insurance companies.READ MORE: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Giving Green Light To Budget Items
If a planned acquisition of his business goes through this summer, he’ll be worth more than $20 billion.
But Ruiz and his money are relevant to this story only because he’s also a big fan of University of Miami athletics. He’s started paying Miami athletes as product endorsers for his new health app, LifeWallet.
“What’s the budget?” asked CBS News correspondent Brook Silva-Braga.
“So we set out $10 million for the calendar year 2022,” responded Ruiz, who confirmed that was $10 million for NIL deals.
The money has gone to dozens of Miami athletes. From $6,000 a year for volleyball player Angela Grieve up to 65,000 for star quarterback Tyler Van Dyke.
Ruiz emphasizes it’s not a handout. Athletes are required to make promotional videos and take training to improve their communication skills.
But the fact the money might also attract new talent to Miami is lost on no one.
“When you invest $10 million I assume you hope it’ll have an impact on the field,” said Silva-Braga.
“There’s no doubt,” said Ruiz. “Do I want the University of Miami to win? Absolutely.”
The idea all of this is allowed now is a giant change for college sports.
And it follows decades of the NCAA forbidding athletes from being paid – even when fans bought their jersey and as college sports became a $14 billion industry.
“People were really sympathetic to the athlete, and the NCAA became the enemy,” said sports business reporter Darren Rovell.
Rovell covered decades of promised but mostly stalled NCAA reform.
Then last summer, reform was imposed on college sports when several state legislatures passed laws giving their athletes Name, Image and Likeness rights. It happened at the same time as the Supreme Court dealt another blow to NCAA control, ruling they’d violated anti-trust law.
“The NCAA, once they lost that case, went, ‘Alright you guys figure it out,’” said Rovell.
In a flash, college athletes won new freedom.
University of Central Florida track star Rayniah Jones started doing commercials for a local bank, which paid $1,500 a month.
“Has it changed your life as a college athlete?” Silva-Braga asked Jones.
“It actually has, you know,” she said. “It just really puts me in a better position for my finances, especially when I graduate.”
But pretty much immediately, college boosters got their own ideas, and started pooling money into so-called “collectives.”
Luis Padilla is CEO of Dreamfield, the company that helped University of Central Florida fans launch their collective, Mission Control.READ MORE: Biden Invokes Defense Production Act To Address Infant Formula Shortage, Among Other Actions
“What’s a collective?” asked Silva-Braga.
“A collective is really a group of alumni, boosters, that come together and pool resources,” explained Padilla.
To stay clear of NCAA eligibility rules:
–The money can’t be an inducement to recruit a player to a specific school
–It can’t be tied to their play on the field
–The athlete must do something in exchange for the money that justifies the amount they’re paid
Mission Control had wide receiver Ryan O’Keefe make a social media post, which paid him $350.
But the NIL dollar amounts are growing dramatically higher at the upper echelons of college football.
“There’s schools that have no shot to recruit certain high school players because they’re going to go where they’re paid the most,” said Ole Miss football coach Lane Kiffen.
It’s leading some, like Kiffen, to insist the deals are being used to win players.
Lawyer Mike Caspino negotiates on behalf of high school players and says some collectives are aggressively skirting the rules.
“We will pay you a large sum of money, just south of a million dollars but we can ask you to pay it back, plus interest, at any time we like,” Caspino said of some collectives’ offers.
“They’re doing that so if a student doesn’t go to their school, they can ask for the money back,” said Silva-Braga.
“Correct,” responded Caspino.
Ruiz, the one booster willing to speak to CBS4 on camera, says he’s following the rules and not using NIL to recruit.
“Normally, if you look at the NIL that we have, we give them to the kids after they committed, not before,” said Ruiz. “I do not speak to almost none of the players before they commit.”
And, he says all those LifeWallet videos prove his athletes are doing real work.
But it’s worth noting, so far, the LifeWallet app they’re promoting has just one written review in the Apple app store and fewer than 100 downloads from the Google Play store.
Still, Ruiz says he’s gotten his money’s worth through publicity from news stories like this one.
“I mean anybody can say whatever they want but take them to a court of law and have them say we’re not getting our bang for the buck,” he said.
But who would do that?
In many states, local agencies or the universities themselves are left to police the hazy field of Name Image and Likeness.MORE NEWS: Pursuit Through Broward Streets Ends With 2 Taken Into Custody
“If the NCAA is hands off, this will become the new free market system. ‘What are you worth?’ Whatever a booster is willing to pay to get you to that school,” said Rovell.