The same day the NCAA announced that student-athletes are allowed to profit off their name, image and likeness (NIL), the NJCAA announced a new bylaw affording junior college athletes the same opportunity.

Under the new bylaw passed by the NJCAA, athletes will not lose their amateur status for receiving compensation based on their NIL. There are a few exceptions, most notably that institutional employees and boosters are barred from making direct payments to athletes and schools cannot provide payments in exchange for performance or recruiting inducements.

From the NJCAA: 

“Under the bylaw, the following acts shall not cause a student-athlete to lose his or her amateur status in the NJCAA:

  • Participating in radio or television programs for the purpose of promoting an amateur athletic event.
  • Receiving compensation for supervision of physical education, playground, or recreational activities.
  • Receiving compensation for use of name, image, or likeness to promote any commercial product or enterprise, or public or media appearance so long as it does not conflict with the institutions existing partnerships, sponsorships, and agreements.
  • A member institution allowing a student-athlete to receive compensation in compliance with their state law.”

KJCCC commissioner Carl Heinrich said the bylaw was overdue.

“Can a music student do it at a university? There’s your answer,” Heinrich said. “If other students can do it, why should athletes be different?” 

The decision came on the eve of a dozen states implementing laws allowing college athletes to profit off NIL, including Texas and Florida, according to the Associated Press. 

The NCAA announced on Thursday that its student-athletes would also be allowed to profit off NIL.

“As far at the NCAA is concerned, it’s one of the first morally acceptable things they’ve done in a long time,” said Labette women’s basketball head coach Mitch Rolls, who played college basketball at Colgate. 

“My senior thesis at Colgate was a 40-page paper and a 30-minute presentation on student-athletes not being able to make money.” 

Rolls also praised the NJCAA for quickly following the NCAA’s precedent.

“I’m just excited that we’ve made a decision,” Rolls said. “I’m glad the NJCAA made the decision quickly and followed suit of the NCAA.” 

Financial incentives at NIL will almost certainly be fewer at the junior college level compared to the NCAA — the starting point guard at Kansas or starting quarterback at Kansas State will have more opportunities than the starting catcher at Labette.

“I’m sure people will get creative,” Labette athletic director Aaron Keal said. “We’re not making a ton of money like the NCAA and most of those football programs do. I don’t think that we’ll be affected too much. I’m sure we’ll have many discussions leading into the fall about NIL. But it won’t be prominent in our league.” 

But Heinrich envisions a hyperlocal environment where athletes at junior colleges can appear in advertisements for local businesses. He also anticipates that schools in smaller areas could be at an advantage.

“You take a community like Hutchinson and Labette, and the show in town is often community college athletics,” Heinrich said. “The value there is much greater than when I was the athletic director at Johnson County, where we’re competing against the Chiefs and Royals.” 

Rolls said he intends to try and facilitate opportunities for his players to profit off NIL.

“Everything is speculative,” Rolls said. “I have no idea how it’ll actually look. Maybe it’s a local business asking a team to show up and promote the business on social media. That’s something small towns could do.

“I’m going to have to tip-toe around it to make sure I understand all the rules, but it’s something that could help our team. It could also promote local businesses and help out the community. I think it’s a win-win for everybody.” 

With the global rise of social media influencers, athletes at junior colleges that have a robust following on a platform are no longer barred from promoting products. 

One caveat to the NJCAA’s bylaw is that any financial incentives can’t be in conflict with a school’s existing sponsorships. One iteration of that is that a student-athlete can’t be sponsored to wear Nike products if the school is sponsored by Adidas.

“It doesn’t specifically say what a student-athlete can or can’t do,” Heinrich said. “But you have to go with your state law through this whole process.” 

In Kansas, Rep. Richard Proehl of the state’s House of Representatives said he expects the Legislature to take up the issue of NIL in its next session in early 2022.

“It is an issue that will have to be addressed,” Proehl said. “There won’t be anything done this year on it. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if there’s a bill that starts on the house and senate side.

“I don’t have a problem in them receiving some compensation for their athletic abilities. The universities have profited off them for years. Why shouldn’t the athletes share in that?” 

The next meeting of the KJCCC presidents is scheduled for July 26, where the issue of NIL will almost assuredly be on the agenda.

“Hopefully we’ll know a little more in the next couple weeks of what’s coming down,” Heinrich said. “The national office doesn’t have a great grasp of what our expectations are. We’ve got to look at whether or not there will be a recruiting advantage and ensure that every school has the same opportunities. We have to look at the big picture.” 

Wholesale changes to the optics at the junior college level are unlikely — most student-athletes at NJCAA schools simply don’t have the marketability their NCAA counterparts have.

But the NJCAA, still acclimating to life after a pandemic-stricken season, is in the process of adapting to a new landscape of college athletics, which now includes allowing student-athletes to be paid for NIL.

“The issue that comes about is that there could be a recruiting advantage that schools could utilize,” Heinrich said. “That’s what the NCAA is trying to figure out right now in how NIL is being utilized in recruiting. If you don’t get some sort of control, it’s going to be the Wild West.” 

Recommended for you