Legal Articles

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, Jordan Bohannon & The Wild West

By Adam Doll

When I was a kid we sometimes played a game called TriBond.  It was a pretty simple game where the object was simply to determine, “What do these 3 have in common?”  In fact, you can still play this game In Adel as you drive past a local veterinarian’s monument sign.  I’ve been told that you only “win” if you come up with the answer before you cross the bridge.

So, what do Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, Jordan Bohannon and the Wild West all have in common?  I’ll give you a second….The answer (at least the one I came up with, let me know if you have any other good answers) is they all are tied to “NIL” in some fashion.  If you are even just a casual college sports fan you probably know that NIL is an acronym for Name, Image and Likeness.  So how are these 3 tied to NIL?  

In June of 2021, Justice Neil Gorsuch penned the opinion for the Supreme Court in NCAA v. Alston, which likely forever changed the NCAA athletic landscape as we know it.  Student-athletes are now allowed to profit from their name, image and likeness.  Before this decision, the NCAA rules didn’t allow for any such profiting by student-athletes, as they were considered “amateurs”.  As recently as 2014, colleges and universities were not even allowed to provide unlimited meals and snacks to their student-athletes.  A big proponent of changing these rules was the NCAA’s record holder in basketball games played (179), Iowa Hawkeye PG/SG and Boomin Iowa Fireworks partner, Jordan Bohannon.  Bohannon was one of the most vocal proponents for allowing NCAA student-athletes to be able to profit from their name, image and likeness while retaining eligibility to play collegiate sports.  Using the hashtag #NotNCAAProperty on Twitter and Facebook, Bohannon helped bring this issue to the forefront of society.

Many sports and legal commentators have stated that the recent change in the NIL law has made collegiate athletics the new Wild West.  Prior to June of 2021, rules, regulations and prohibitions pertaining to NCAA amateurism were not in short supply.  We are now in a new era where it seems everything is up in the air.  What powers does the NCAA have to enforce rules?  Are so-called booster-funded “collectives” going to be targeted by the NCAA?  What is legally permissible and what is not?  Until that is figured out collegiate sports will seemingly remain the Wild West.  Congress is looking at possibly addressing these NIL issues with federal legislation which would allow for a common framework of rules… which would be no small task.  Stay tuned!