NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Southeastern Conference commissioner Greg Sankey said he was given little information before the 12th Man Foundation, Texas A&M’s main booster organization, unveiled its in-house name, image and likeness (NIL) compensation fund known as the 12th Man+ Fund. But Sankey also said that’s the way the process is meant to work for now.
Ultimately, as athletic departments and boosters wade their way through the intricacies of NIL compensation, it’s the conference’s job to simply educate, not preemptively adjudicate.
“We’ve been clear in communication with our campuses on some of our key positions, and we’ll continue to do that directly with our campuses,” Sankey said Friday at the SEC men’s basketball tournament. “There wasn’t much notice to us relatively speaking. That’s not an evaluation process in which we’re involved, because our consistent position has been you have to make certain you’re complying with your state laws and with the NCAA structure, whatever it may be, around name image and likeness.”
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The 12th Man Foundation, a 501©(3) organization that works independently of the university and the athletics department, announced its venture into NIL compensation on Feb. 15. Donors can make contributions to the fund, which will be used to pay athletes to market for the 12th Man Foundation, and will receive a tax receipt and priority points that can be used for future ticket purchases. The foundation’s independent status from the athletics department and its exclusive management of A&M’s athletics ticket sales make the new venture legal under Texas laws and NCAA rules.
Texas law does not allow schools nor their athletics departments to engage directly in NIL deals with athletes.
“Under the guidance, the schools can’t be involved in facilitating any deals with student-athletes, securing or negotiating deals,” attorney Ryan Whelpley, of Morse, told The Eagle in February. “They’re not allowed to do that — the school can’t. If the fund is independent from the school, not communicating with the school about these deals other than just general compliance, and is not getting any financial support and the school isn’t paying for any of the deals, I think that creates some validity behind it in being legally compliant.”
Sports Illustrated’s Ross Dellenger reported the NCAA sent a memo to member schools 12 days after the announcement of the 12th Man+ Fund that reiterated the rules prohibit a school from compensating athletes through NIL, including “entities acting on behalf of the institution.”
When asked Friday at the SEC tournament, A&M athletics director Ross Bjork harkened back to his comments on Feb. 15 about the fund. At that press conference, Bjork said notifying the NCAA and the SEC of the 12th Man Foundation’s plans was an extra step.
“The 12th Man Foundation approached us, so we notified the NCAA that that was the approach that the 12th Man Foundation was taking,” Bjork said in February. “Really, their response was as long as it meets NCAA bylaws and guidelines, as long as you’ve reviewed it from a state law perspective, that’s for the heads up. Because all this is changing. You have 30 different state laws. They have put out some guidelines and as long as you meet those guidelines and you’ve vetted it as an institution, then there’s really not much that the NCAA can do.”
Sankey said the SEC was a party in that line of communication.
“We’ll certainly facilitate those communications and did so in that circumstance,” he said. “We have constantly urged care. I think there are a lot of issues beyond merely recruiting conversations that have to be considered with name, image and likeness. I’ve identified two state laws and the NCAA guidelines, and we’ll continue to make that the focus of our advice and guidance.”