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National high school federation comes out against NIL payments

The National Federation of High School State Associations (NFHS) is aware of coming legislation that will empower college athletes to earn money off their name, image and likeness, and it doesn't like it.

In a lengthy address published Wednesday, NFHS executive director Karissa Niehoff argued the prospect of high school athletes earning money off their likeness as an existential threat to education-based sports programs.

While it's one thing to warn athletes and their families that newly-passed NCAA rules will not apply to them and that laws and policies will vary state to state and also from club sports to school sports, which Niehoff does, Niehoff also comes out against the concept of NIL payments altogether, at one point calling them a bigger threat to high school athletes than COVID-19.

"There is a troublesome issue on the horizon, however, that if not addressed appropriately could have a longer-term negative impact on education-based interscholastic sports and performing arts than the terrible, but more temporary, impact of any novel coronavirus," she writes.

She continues: "The issue of 'name, image and likeness' and how it could impact high school students is huge. The battle for amateurism perhaps has been lost at the college level, but it must be maintained to preserve the greatest programs in this country – education-based interscholastic sports in our nation’s high schools."

For more than a century, the college sports establishment bought into the idea that, because NCAA rules demanded college athletes compete as amateurs, the concept of college sports and amateurism were intertwined at the DNA level. As if amateurism was as integral to a college football game as the ball, goal posts, and Chemistry 101 homework waiting for each player back in their dorm room.

Market forces have since disabused the NCAA of that idea, but Niehoff and the NFHS clearly still believe in amateurism as an end goal of high school athletics.

"What is missing in all of these proposals?" she writes. "The potential effect on high school students in interscholastic education-based sports through completion of their senior years and preservation of the most sacred and fundamental aspect of high school sports in the United States – the concept of amateurism!"

We can all agree there is zero NIL market for 99.99999 percent of all high school athletes, but somehow the idea of an athlete taking a payment because of their status as an athlete is earth-shattering in way that any other endeavor is not. Where is the lobby railing against the idea of a high school violinist taking a few dollars to play a specific brand of instrument for her school's orchestra? Would the purity of a high school one-act play competition be lost if one of the actors took a fee to promote a product on Instagram?

That entire conversation may sound silly to you -- it sure does to me -- but for some reason we accept it in athletics. And the NFHS would like to make sure we continue accepting it into the future.