Former Mizzou football player keeps Tigers on pace in NIL world through legislation

·5 min read
Darrell Byers / MCT

On April 27, Gary Pinkel’s 70th birthday, the Missouri House of Representatives passed a resolution honoring the former Tigers football coach for his career achievements, including a school-record 118 victories and election into this year’s College Football Hall of Fame class.

The day turned out to be more than ceremony.

A conversation between Pinkel and Rep. Kurtis Gregory, R-Marshall, an offensive lineman for Pinkel from 2005-08 who introduced the resolution, set the wheels in motion for an amendment to a state law that keeps Mizzou and other schools in the state at the forefront of allowing athletes to profit from their name, imagine and likeness (NIL).

The amendment allows coaches and school officials to assist in NIL deals to athletes and the language is similar to one that passed in Tennessee in April.

What does this mean? An example: A coach can attend fundraising efforts for NIL collectives — donor-driven third parties designed to connect athletes with money-making opportunities like endorsements, social media posts or autograph signing sessions.

For Missouri, Gregory saw this as a necessary step to keep up in the ever-ambitious SEC.

“It’s about staying competitive in a whole new world,” Gregory said.

A college sports world that is being defined on the fly. Almost a year ago, the Supreme Court ruled athletes could be compensated and the NCAA lifted most of its restrictions about players cashing in on their fame. By then, some states, first in California, had already established their own NIL laws. Last July, Gov. Mike Parson signed Missouri’s NIL bill.

But the last few months have brought confusion about what is and isn’t allowed under NCAA regulations when it comes to recruiting new athletes and accepting transfers, along with some eye-opening offers from collectives.

A group in Tennessee, Spyre Sports Group, aims to generate $25 million for athletes with one recruit reportedly prepared to earn as much as $8 million during his college career.

A Miami Hurricanes booster, John Ruiz, arranged an $800,000 deal plus use of a car for transferring Kansas State basketball player Nijel Pack. In both cases, the players are expected to make public appearances and take part in social media promotions.

Last week, the NCAA announced guidelines to clarify the types of NIL payments and booster involvement that should be considered recruiting violations. Athletes couldn’t be paid solely for playing their sport — there has to be some type of agreement where an athlete is paid for a service. And compensation couldn’t be used to lure an athlete to a school.

But with offers from collectives and other sources and no NIL-specific rules in the NCAA bylaws, it’s difficult to know when lines have been crossed.

Missouri has stepped into that uncertainty with an amendment to a state law that awaits the Parson’s signature. Crafting the language in the amendment was team effort, Gregory said. Sen. Barbara Washington, D-Kansas City and Gregory traded drafts.

“When I presented it, it was nothing more than, ‘Missouri introduced NIL laws last year. States are going back into them to make changes and this is one way we’re trying to keep up,’” Gregory said.

It passed with a simple voice vote. Who would be against helping Mizzou and other schools in the state maintain a competitive advantage, especially when NIL funds don’t come from the school?

“I want universities in Missouri to be at the top level and get the best athletes they can get,” Gregory said.

If only NIL had been around when Gregory played for Mizzou. Those teams were among the best in school history. The 2007 Missouri team defeated Kansas before 80,000 at Arrowhead Stadium in a battle to become the nation’s top-ranked team.

The Tigers won the Big 12 North that season and the next, and won 10 games both years. Gregory started at right guard and could have used the benefits that are available to college athletes today to help him get through some tough times.

As a college athlete, Gregory underwent surgery on his knee three times, shoulder twice, and ankle and suffered stress fractures in his back. Three of those procedures occurred between the end of his junior and senior seasons. Gregory powered through. He wanted to remain on the field and take a shot at the NFL The Carolina Panthers made him an undrafted free agent, but he never played in the NFL.

“If we had NIL back when I played, would I even have tried to make it at the next level, knowing my body was in the shape that it was in?” Gregory said. “I don’t know the answer, but I look back at it.”

Gregory grew up on a farm and today owns a 1,100-acre farm with his wife, Kella, and parents, Roger and Ruth. They raise corn and soybeans and custom feed 2,400 pigs for a family-owned hog operation. Perhaps NIL opportunities can be found in the soil.

“Maybe there is a Missouri farm kid on the football team, or softball team, or whatever the team,” Gregory said. “You could have a soybean-sponsored homegrown Missouri talent type of deal.

“Or partnering with a steakhouse, a truck dealership. I think about the offensive line.”

Linemen as some schools took advantage last year. Wisconsin’s offensive line was sponsored by a local barbecue restaurant. This season, Texas’ scholarship offensive linemen will receive $50,000 each for their participation in charitable causes, an initiative called “The Pancake Factory.”

Gregory recalled a billboard advertisement for a law firm in Kentucky that featured hulking defensive linemen and said “Size Matters.”

It’s not about being in the game but trying to stay a step ahead.

“I don’t want to be playing catch-up all the time,” Gregory said.

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