There was a significant revelation for Kurtis Gregory during Missouri's Senior Day festivities in 2009. The fifth-year offensive lineman was completing his career as a happy, smiling native son of the Show-Me State whose parents had never missed one of his games. Meanwhile …
"I had teammates, that was the very first game their parents came to see them play in person. It's heartbreaking," said Gregory, now a Missouri state representative. "I had teammates that would send … 75% of [their scholarship] money back home -- and they were living on someone's couch. Their family needed the money back home more than they needed it in Columbia."
Gregory relayed the memory last week as an inspiration after rushing at the last minute to push through an amendment that would relax the state's name, image and likeness law in hopes of further compensating athletes. In a move that should resonate from the SEC to NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis, a proposed bill would allow any athletic department official -- including coaches -- to assist with NIL deals.
After passing both the Missouri house and senate on Friday -- less than a day before the end of the legislative session for the year -- SB 718 now awaits only Gov. Mike Parson's signature to become law.
"I want Missouri to have the best players," said Gregory, now a farmer who grows corn, soybeans and wheat on 1,100 acres in the western half of the state.
That's as plain as it gets in this hyper-competitive NIL era. It's also obvious in the increasingly liberalized NIL space. In fact, a week into the, cracks are already appearing in the association's initiative.
"It wasn't much of anything except a restatement of expectations," said attorney Jason Montgomery of last week's headline-grabbing attempt by the NCAA to retain some authority in the NIL space. "The first tenet of the NCAA's interim [NIL] policy is you have to follow your state's law. That would suggest, if a state gives the ability to do that, the NCAA doesn't have any ability to enforce any restrictions."
That about summarizes the blink-and-you-miss-it climate. Missouri is poised to become the latest state to expand NIL opportunities beyond the NCAA rulebook.
Late last month, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill that significantly broadened NIL rights. It allows interaction between collectives, coaches and athletes. That could not have been well-received by the NCAA, which singled out collectives last week. Specifically, that law means the Knoxville-based Spyre Sports Group, which is overseeing the $8 million contract of a prospect believed to be quarterback Nico Iamaleava, would no longer be banned from interaction by the state.
Existing laws in Louisiana and Illinois are undergoing amendment conversions that would allow booster involvement. Illinois currently has one of the more restrictive NIL laws in the country. That will not be the case soon.
"It's a race to the bottom to some extent," said Montgomery, a former NCAA investigator and partner at Husch Blackwell in Kansas City, Missouri, who specializes in enforcement, eligibility and compliance issues.
For those familiar with recent history, this pattern mirrors how states used their legislative power to spread NIL rights in their states. The initial California NIL bill that drew withering threats from the NCAA was introduced in December 2020. Other states quickly copied versions of it. The NCAA was way late to realize it couldn't play whack-a-mole trying to contest the laws state by state.
In February, Alabama repealed its NIL law when it was deemed more restrictive than the NCAA's meager standards. You're not alone if you've noticed a lot of this activity is bubbling up from SEC schools.
"[The Missouri amendment] was more in response to looking at some other SEC state schools either a) just completely repealing their language or b) really the catalyst was when Tennessee made the same change that we did," Gregory said.
He added: "When you have millions upon millions of dollars being thrown around and TV contracts and advertising and ticket sales and donors, the reason that [money] happens is the performance on the field. And the performance on the field comes from great coaches and great players."
This started July 1, 2021, when the NCAA offered only cursory guidelines in the coming player compensation tsunami. Here we are again as states adjust their laws with the NCAA already largely defanged in enforcing its own rules.
The association technically prohibits coaches and schools from brokering NIL deals for athletes, but it was quick to state last July that athletes are allowed to "engage in NIL activity that is protected by state law." And to stop those deals, the enforcement division would have to find violations. There has been no meaningful move in that direction since NIL debuted 10 ½ months ago. And as Montgomery said, state laws generally supersede NCAA rules.
"This is taking those handcuffs off," said Louisiana Sen. Patrick Connick whose amendment removes language that states schools "shall not use a booster … to facilitate compensation opportunities."
Booster involvement has been long prohibited by the NCAA. Boosters are not allowed to pay players directly or be part of a university's recruiting process. The NCAA defines boosters as "representatives of a school's athletic interests."
Once a person is designated as such a representative, they "retain that identity forever," according to the NCAA. In the past, the NCAA has used a broad interpretation of that definition to penalize schools.
"You have boosters who live and die for the university they represent," Connick said. "Some of these people are very successful men and women who want to have these students promote their businesses. If they do it the right way, I think be one and needs to be done."
In the SEC -- to the surprise of few -- relaxation of NIL barriers is becoming as competitive as recruiting itself.
"We're paying Coach [Eli] Drinkwitz $4 million a year," Gregory said. "We want him to be successful and win football games. If he is going to be at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to recruiting because of our state laws, I want to make sure to give him every competitive advantage he can have. If we don't want to do that, let's just close it down and be happy with mediocrity."
There has been almost no movement stemming from one of the biggest complaints of the NIL era: tampering. The NCAA calls it "impermissible contact" between a coach/school and a transfer -- an enticement to change programs. But sources tell CBS Sports not many such cases had been processed -- both before and after NIL hit -- because tampering is hard to prove.
Example: If USC quarterback Caleb Williams pitched Pittsburgh wide receiver Jordan Addison on transferring out West, it wouldn't be a violation. If USC coach Lincoln Riley instructed Williams to lure Addison, that would be a violation. The question remains: How do you prove it?
All of it is a glimpse of what federal oversight of NIL might look like.
Some legislators, commissioners and athletic directors have long warned about the downside of Congressional oversight of NIL. It won't necessarily end at an antitrust exemption keeping the NCAA from behind sued over enacting meaningful NIL rules. Like the Missouri bill, there will be other portions that will have to be negotiated in that potentially have nothing to do with college athletics.
In other words, do you really want Congress running big-time college athletics? Some of the legislators involved in these state laws would be involved in the federal level as well.
"There's a chance somebody abuses the system," Connick said. "My hope is that the NCAA works with Congress and gets uniform [rules] so everybody can be on the playing field."
The other option: This the new normal.
Gregory dreads having to deal with a player's union.
Connick was asked if fans even care how much players are paid if everything else, including NIL opportunities, remains competitive.
"I don't think so," he said. "I think it's more about being entertained."