In terms of NIL benefits, the decidedly red state of Missouri is suddenly one of the most liberal spots in the collegiate landscape. The Show-Me State -- made up of sweeping plains, fertile farmland and a conservative salt-of-the-earth ethic -- lately might as well be the saucy equivalent of an all-night Miami Beach rager.
It's B.Y.O.B. -- Bring Your Own (NIL) Benefits.
Missouri House Bill 417, passed last week, nudged NIL right up to the edge of "pay for play." It is not the first bill to push NIL boundaries, but it the latest and it is significant adding Missouri to a long list of states challenging the NCAA's authority in the NIL space.
Per the bill, school officials -- including coaches -- can join talks with athletes about prospective NIL deals. Furthermore, in-state high school prospects can become immediately eligible for NIL benefits if they sign with an in-state school. Using the early February football signing day as a starting point, those players could be getting paid for six months before suiting up for their first college practice.
If that sounds like an inducement to attend, say, the University of Missouri ... you are not alone in thinking as much. The state's only Power Five program resides in the nation's most powerful conference (SEC). University officials and coaches showed up in the state capital earlier this month to celebrate as legislators cast their votes on HB 417.
One of the bill's main sponsors, state representative Kurtis Gregory (R) has already heard the growing conversation -- sometimes bordering on outrage -- regarding that inducement piece.
"Tell me how that is any different than also being told as a recruit, 'You're going to get a nice, new facility in Year 2,'" said Gregory, a former Tigers offensive lineman. "It's no different than being promised potential early playing time or new facilities or new gear. Everything about trying to get a commitment is an inducement."
Missouri is not alone in the rapidly changing NIL legislative landscape. The state's bill is similar to laws either proposed or passed in Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, New York and Arkansas -- all of which challenge the NCAA's authority.
Missouri took the significant extra step by forbidding an "athletic association" (basically, the NCAA) from investigating schools over perceived NIL violations. Athletes cannot be penalized by the NCAA for "receiving NIL compensation."
A turf war is developing. That number of states with divergent -- and hostile -- NIL laws is growing. In general, those state laws trump NCAA rules. Part of the Missouri law specifically states athletes can sue any third party that interferes with the athlete's ability to earn NIL money. Privately, NCAA enforcement sources are contending they will continue to pursue cases, running the risk of being sued in states with combative NIL laws.
Publicly, NCAA senior vice president of external affairs Tim Buckley provided CBS Sports with this statement:
The NCAA has no plans to change its enforcement and investigatory actions as designed by member schools who set NCAA policy. The Association will continue to promote level playing fields and safe competition for student-athletes across the country. Independent reviews have found many NIL deals can be exploitive of student-athletes, and with dozens of states now passing different laws governing NIL, the NCAA believes working with Congress is the best way to protect student-athletes' rights and to set nationwide, uniform rules to modernize college sports.
That sets the ground rules for what NIL has evolved into with its second anniversary looming July 1. NCAA president Charlie Baker's deep engagement with Congress for a federal NIL bill is seen as somewhat of a zero-sum game -- either a last-ditch Hail Mary or a much-needed, coordinated effort to save the collegiate model. Regardless, the outcome has a loser-leave-town air about it.
Meanwhile, the prospect of essentially paying high schoolers NIL money exists.
"Once you sign a National Letter of Intent, you're all but on the team [anyway]," Gregory surmised.
It is more than a coincidence that copycat NIL laws have developed in SEC states.
"If they're going to do it, by golly, we need to have it," one legislator from another SEC state told CBS Sports. "I would say it is 100% competitive."
Whether any of it will make Mizzou more competitive on the field remains to be seen. In football, it is a mid-level SEC program. Men's basketball broke through this year with its first NCAA Tournament win in a decade. There is little indication the Tigers will start beating out Alabama on top-level football players or Kentucky on basketball players. And there is the ultimate parity piece: scholarship limitations. Traditionally, teams can sign only 25 players annually in football.
But that's almost a side issue. Missouri and other states have been emboldened and enabled to take action. NCAA enforcement has been forced to adjust. In January, the NCAA passed Bylaw 19.7.3 that holds a presumption of guilt. That shifts the burden of truth to schools and individuals to prove a violation has not occurred.
The subject of tampering, impermissible contact and inducements has become part of everyday NIL conversation. What used to be an NCAA violation now could be a recruiting tool.
"This is the new arms race," Gregory told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
That begs the question of where Baker is going to find the votes in Congress to preserve the status quo. Missouri legislators -- and their peers in other states -- are unlikely to vote for a federal law that puts State U on equal footing with everyone else.
Lead1 Association CEO Tom McMillen questions whether the NCAA has alienated Congress across states in which they have penalized state schools for rules violations.
"Every school that has been sanctioned, you've lost that member of Congress," said McMillen, whose association represents FBS athletic directors. "The NCAA is trying to get stuff done through Congress. They've lost half of them."
Meanwhile, back in the Show-Me State, the NIL party has only started to rage.
"I want to make sure, in the state of Missouri, we're on the cutting edge of NIL," Gregory said.