New NIL rules empower high school athletes, but not without risk

The same words used to define a ‘phenom’ also apply when describing Cornelius-area athlete Justin Best.

Best, who is currently a candidate for Gatorade Player of the Year in North Carolina, earned a scholarship offer to play baseball at Florida State University when he was just 14 years old. That’s two years after he posted 46 home runs in a single season. He was 12 years old at the time.

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Best said he discovered his love for baseball when he was even younger.

“Since 5,” he said, though admitting he “wasn’t that good,” at the time.

“It wasn’t so much me pushing him, he was asking ‘let’s go dad, can we go today, can we go today,” said his father Rick Best of his son’s desire to train.

“He had a lot of things coming at him. We just had to make sure he was ready for them when they came.”

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Among those opportunities, during his junior year in high school, Justin Best signed an NIL deal signed with Roc Nation Sports. NIL is short for name, image, and likeness, and deals typically allow student-athletes to cash in on their following, their brand, and their success.

“For my family, personally, it wasn’t about the money. Never has been,” Rick Best said. “It was just a great opportunity to give Justin some more exposure.”

“It’s a lot of hard work put into it,” Justin added of the opportunity. “At the same time, you still have to perform and show people that you are a really good baseball player.”

The Cornelius-area athlete signed an NIL deal more than a year ago, and in the absence of an official policy from the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, known as the NCHSAA. It governs sports across more than 400 member schools.

The school Justin attends isn’t one of them.

“The way we were able to navigate it is Justin went to combine Academy, which is not part of a high school Federation,” said Rick Best.

This month, the NCHSAA took action, approving its first NIL policy, which could take effect as soon as July. The policy outlines when and how student-athletes can cash in on their success, allowing opportunities like appearances and autograph signings, but rules against potential deals that endorse gambling, drugs and guns, among others.

The new NIL policy is also contingent on the future of Senate Bill 636, which is currently in the NC House. In part, it calls for the State Board of Education to adopt the rules governing high school athletics.

“Everybody owns their name their image and their likeness, so we need to recognize and on that piece first and foremost,” said NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker.

“So what can I do if I want to use my name, my image, and my likeness?” she said.

Assistant Commissioner Brad Alford said based on the NCHSAA’s initial research, the average NIL deal for high school athletes likely won’t exceed $200 for 3-4 hours of work, with an exception for the “once in a generation athlete.”

“The goal of the policy is to make sure our student-athletes aren’t exploited,” Alford said.

It’s the same goal inspiring the work of Dr. Tom Carter III, the founder and CEO of Carter Alo Consulting. Included within its mission is advising athletes through the business of sports -- including NIL.

“In the pro ranks, you have what we call certified agents -- certified marketing reps -- and we do background checks,” Carter said. “What is happening right now is unregulated for college and high school athletes, so now Joe Blow can represent anybody.”

Carter suggests student-athletes and their guardians employ strategies like running their own background check on a potential agent or rep, in addition to watching out for predatory language in a contract.

“Just be patient because there is no home run,” he said.

Though on deck, there could be a change in the high school sports landscape, soon.

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