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Should high school athletes be paid for their name, image, and likeness?
ECHS Football file photo

By Mike Brown and Donald Heath

Special to the Effingham Herald


When the NCAA made the decision to allow college athletes to earn money—or a benefit as they called it—off their name, image and likeness (NIL) it created a new chapter in amateur athletics albeit one which has been nothing short of confusing what with each state having different guidelines

Now, another NIL chapter is being written, one which involves high school sports and it is as chaotic as the college.

As of July 1 when NIL became effective in Kentucky, 30 states and the District of Columbia now allow NIL for high school athletes and their rules for the most part differ from their college guidelines.

Georgia is not one of the 30, but it could be added to that list this fall. The GHSA Board of Trustees announced in April it will discuss NIL for the state’s prep athletes this fall.

High school athletes, like their college counterparts, are already shopping around for the best deal and coaches are left in limbo, especially when it comes to losing an elite athlete to a neighboring state.

Texas, for example, does not allow NIL for its high school athletes. There have been reports of some Texas schoolboys going to California which has liberal NIL rules.

What the GHSA will decide to do is anyone’s guess. The board has received input from coaches and athletic directors and will weigh it while they also look at how other states are handling the issue.

GHSA Executive Director Robin Hines told Georgia High School Football Daily last April, “When we’re ready to do something we want to make sure guardrails are in place.”

From a legal point of view NIL deals make sense but in looking at how things are currently unfolding at the collegiate level it could open a Pandora’s box of issues for high schools, especially in the metro Atlanta area where recruiting is more of an issue than  in the more rural areas of the state and Coastal Georgia.


Local players and coaches weigh in

South Effingham's football coach Loren Purvis had some thoughts on the issue.

“I always thought high school football is one of the last pure forms of football and that's why I've loved the sport. You get a chance to come out and wear the name of your community on your chest with your name on the back. It's special,” Purvis said. “If we ever lose that it's going to tarnish the sport.

Loren Purvis
Loren Purvis
"I think it could be a situation of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’,” Purvis continued. “It's not fair that your best players might be ripped away because they see dollars somewhere else. You're messing with the purity of the sport. You're asking kids to choose the love of the game or to go elsewhere and take the money and that's where you start tarnishing things. I hope the GHSA and Robin Hines make the right decision – keep that away from us as long as possible."

John Ford
John Ford
Effingham County coach John Ford looked at NIL through a different lens.

"Here, in our town, if a local car dealership wanted to pay a kid to put his face on a billboard (endorsing the product), I don't have a problem with that," Ford said. "That's capitalism, right. That's America. We talk about being a free market economy, but we suppress the wages of people and tell them what they can and cannot do.

"I don't think it should be used to induce athletes to move from one school to another. If a kid gets an NIL deal after (changing schools), I think that should affect his eligibility. I think the GHSA should be pretty strict on that."

Rebels senior Nate Hayes, one of the area's top quarterbacks, said the NIL issue is a non-issue to him.

"I don't really think about that kind of stuff," Hayes said. "If it happens, it happens. I just play the sport I love and whatever happens, happens."

Bryan County seniors Tanner Ennis and Austin “Smush” Clemons and Richmond Hill junior Thomas Zimbalatti had opinions from the student-athlete point of view while Coaches Matt LeZotte of Richmond Hill and Bryan County Coach Cherard Freeman also had thoughts on the subject.

The three players are all being recruited to play college football while LeZotte and Freeman were both scholarship athletes and played on teams that won FCS national championships. LeZotte was a quarterback at James Madison and Freeman was a running back at Georgia Southern.

Tanner Ennis, Bryan County defensive back/wide receiver:  “I’m not really too big on it. Kids getting money is not a good thing. Most are not mature enough to handle it. I just don’t know. Not sure about it. It could create issues.”

Austin Clemons, Bryan County running back/linebacker: “I think it’s a big deal and I think it’s okay as long as the athlete has some type of guidance. The parents…at least my Mom would be there every step of the way to guide me to keep me on the right path. I like to buy my own things; I want to have my own stuff. I know I’m just in high school but as long as they have some type of guidance, I don’t see a problem with it.”

Thomas Zimbalatti, Richmond Hill offensive lineman: “I feel like college kids should get NIL but I don’t think high school kids should unless they are already going to go to college and have a commitment. It would be nice for some high school athletes to have it, but I think it would really hurt high school standards.”

Bryan County’s two high school football coaches concurred with their athletes’ sentiments.

Matt LeZotte, Richmond Hill head coach, added, “I don’t necessarily agree with it at the college level. I don’t think it’s controlled very well so I’m reserved in saying it’s okay (at the high school level). I think individuals should be able to capitalize on their successes and ability, but it can get out of control. Schools (high schools) with a lot of resources and deep community pockets are going to be able to do a lot more things and it’s going to pull into question some of the other rules GHSA has with eligibility, moving, and things of that nature. I have a hard time seeing that (NIL) trickle down to the high school level when they can’t control it at the college level.”

Cherard Freeman, Bryan County head coach said, “I don’t want to see anything hurt the game. I think NIL in high school will, especially at small schools like here and in South Georgia, will be affected. You’re going to get the kids not getting anything saying they’re not going to play. I really think it will hurt small-town football. Here at Bryan County, we don’t have a lot of businesses so that good player with no NIL deal, people will start recruiting him. A school like us could lose a couple of good players because of NIL, and it could tear up your team and season before the season started. I would hate to see NIL for high schools.”