TSSAA clears way for high school athletes to profit from name, image, likeness

Staff file photo / The TSSAA voted Thursday to begin allowing student-athletes in Tennessee to receive NIL deals.

MURFREESBORO — The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association opened the door Thursday for high school athletes statewide to begin profiting from their name, image and likeness.

The association's 12-member legislative council, which writes all rules for the governing body of high school sports, voted unanimously in favor of the rule change during a scheduled meeting at the DoubleTree Hotel.

According to the way the new rule is written, student-athletes statewide can immediately begin receiving payment for instructional services (i.e. lessons) as well as for activities not related to performance, provided they are carried out in a manner that does not suggest the endorsement or sponsorship of their school.

The student-athlete's activities for which they are compensated may not include an image or likeness of the student in a uniform or other clothing or gear depicting the name or logo of the TSSAA member school that the student is attending or has attended.

First-year TSSAA Executive Director Mark Reeves said that in discussions with directors from other state high school associations, he learned several of the states that do not currently allow student-athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness have had lawsuits brought against them.

"It was more than likely that litigation would've come into play, potentially," Reeves said when asked what prompted the major rules change. "We've seen already in some other states where high school students have challenged their state where NIL was not permitted.

"We felt like we at least needed to bring this up (today) to see if the council wanted to rule on it. Once they did, it at least gives our organization some control or ability to amend it or tweak it.

"What this does is the association makes it clear that they don't want the (member) schools to be represented in any opportunities kids have to make money. We don't want references to schools in these types of opportunities where kids can potentially make money. This gives the membership the opportunity to say that from the get-go."

Tennessee becomes the 20th state to begin allowing its high school athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness. Currently Alabama and Georgia do not allow prep athletes to broker NIL deals.

Within an hour of the ruling the first NIL deal was announced when Lakeway Christian defensive back Shajai Jackson tweeted, "Thank you Lakeway Auto for offering me the first NIL deal in Tennessee high school history!"

The school is in White Pine, east of Knoxville.

The TSSAA's rationale for the rule change was to clarify that students cannot be compensated for their performance in contests but can for other activities (modeling, instructional services, sponsorships, etc.) provided there's no reference to a TSSAA school, TSSAA accolades or championships.

"The buzz for NIL deals started when colleges passed their ruling to allow it at their level," Reeves said. "For the last year, there has been increasing conversations about it at our level among other state associations.

"What we're seeing from other states who have dealt with this is that it can be an avenue for more undue influence to be placed on some student-athletes or their families to transfer or play for specific programs. That is one potential issue, but that is something we will deal with as we go along."

  photo  Staff Photo by Robin Rudd / Brainerd head coach Martels Carter Sr. walks the sidelines. The Brainerd Panthers hosted the Signal Mountain Eagles in a TSSAA football game on October 27, 2022.

Brainerd High School football coach Martels Carter has five players on his team's roster who are projected to be Football Bowl Subdivision level prospects, which would make them likely targets for potential NIL deals.

Included on that list is Carter's son, Martels Jr., a sophomore defensive back who already has scholarship offers from more than 20 college programs, including Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Michigan, Ole Miss and most recently, Nebraska.

Also, Boo Carter -- who is not related to Coach Carter but who recently transferred to Brainerd from Chattanooga Christian -- is one of the highest-rated in-state recruits for the Class of 2024, with scholarship offers from Tennessee, LSU, Clemson, Miami and Oregon among others, which makes him another candidate to possibly be approached with NIL offers while still in high school.

Coach Carter said he will meet with his team as a whole to discuss how to handle NIL offers.

"We talk to all of our kids about life situations a lot already because I want them to know how to prepare and protect themselves," said Carter Sr., who has had coaches from Power Five programs Tennessee, Ohio State, Vanderbilt, Florida State and Nebraska visit Brainerd athletes just this week.

"When I saw the news about the ruling, I thought it's a wonderful idea," Carter Sr. said. "When I was growing up, athletes had to train really hard to earn a scholarship, then nearly starve if you went to college because you couldn't make money while you were playing. You also had to hope you stayed healthy because an injury could take away your future as a player.

"But this is a different concept now. For some kids, the ability to make money while they're in high school will help their situation right away, and the ones who can earn really good money from a college NIL deal could have their whole life changed."

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.

  photo  Staff photo by Patrick MacCoon / Brainerd sophomore Martels Carter Jr. already has offers from six SEC football programs and looks to help the Panthers breakout in 2022.