Michigan Universities’ NIL Rules Prohibit Athletes’ Partnering With Gambling Companies

Written By Derek Helling on July 27, 2021 - Last Updated on July 26, 2021

If you’re a fan of any of the athletic programs at the five biggest public universities in Michigan, you’re probably aware of recent changes in college athletics regarding athletes’ monetizing their publicity rights without affecting their eligibility to play their sports. As there is no active law on the books specifically addressing name, image and likeness in MI right now, the colleges and universities in the state are left to create their own Michigan athletes NIL rules.

Among those are provisions that preclude athletes from partnering with gambling companies. There are a number of reasons for such a ban.

The dawn of Michigan athletes and NIL rules

The state’s law on college athletes’ publicity rights and NCAA eligibility doesn’t take effect until Dec. 31, 2022. Thus, absent any broader guidance from athletic conferences or the NCAA, Michigan colleges and universities are essentially on their own for the time being.

Most have already acted. Michigan announced new policies on July 1. Michigan State did so on the same day. Central Michigan followed suit as well.

Neither Eastern Michigan nor Western Michigan responded to multiple inquiries on this subject. However, the policies at Central Michigan, Michigan, and Michigan State are clear on the matter of gambling endorsements.

What Michigan NIL rules say about gambling partnerships

Central Michigan’s policy doesn’t address all gambling companies explicitly. However, sportsbooks are the subjects of part of the policy. That section reads:

“Despite the opportunities that NIL will offer student-athletes, there are some restrictions regarding NIL activities. Student-athletes may not:

  • Engage in NIL activities with an entity that provides a product or service that conflicts with NCAA legislation (e.g., sports wagering, banned substances).”

Michigan State’s verbiage reads much the same:

“Student-athletes are prohibited from engaging in any name, image, or likeness activities involving sports wagering or any substance or drug class located on the NCAA’s list of banned substances. ”

Michigan’s rules are a bit broader in their language:

“Those who have chosen to be a student-athlete have chosen to act as public representatives of the University and may not engage in name, image, and likeness activities that may harm the reputation of the institution. This may include but is not limited to promoting products or services such as gambling, adult entertainment, tobacco, or banned substances.”

What would happen if an athlete at one of these three institutions went ahead and accepted compensation from a gambling company for the use of their NIL, anyway? That’s a difficult situation to read right now.

What if an athlete decides to test these limits?

To stick to the spirit of these rules, athletic departments would have to declare such an athlete ineligible. Other consequences could follow. Yet, there is room to speculate about this topic.

A perhaps unlikely, but still plausible, hypothetical scenario raises an important question: Would all athletes receive equitable treatment in this situation? Suppose a star quarterback at Michigan makes an appearance at a casino, but it isn’t the casino that pays the athlete for the appearance.

Further, assume that appearance happens right before an important contest, such as a Big Ten Conference championship game. Would the Wolverines really bench the centerpiece of their offense with a conference title, and maybe a spot in the College Football Playoff, on the line?

Perhaps they would wait until after the season to discipline that player. Another possibility is that the athletic department might spin it to say the athlete wasn’t directly promoting gambling, since the casino didn’t make the payment. The athlete merely signed some autographs at a venue that happened to be a casino.

Athletic departments likely hope they never have to make such decisions. Beyond eligibility issues, there are other reasons for these policies.

Why gambling is off-limits for athletes

First off, the NCAA does have organization-wide rules regarding athletes’ gambling. It would be a poor optic to be copasetic with those same athletes endorsing gambling companies.

Additionally, research suggests college students are especially vulnerable to developing compulsive gambling issues. Again, athletes at these institutions promoting gambling could come off poorly.

Finally, athletes in cahoots with sportsbooks could raise doubts about the integrity of games. That’s part of the reason sportsbooks usually only use former athletes as spokespeople.

Michigan universities hope this is a policy they’ll never have to act on. Regardless, it’s in place so everyone is clear about what’s acceptable amid recent changes.

Photo by Michael Conroy/AP
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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago, IL. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law. Recently, he has written about the expanded gambling industry in Michigan, including online sports betting, online casinos, and the cornerstone land-based casino market.

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