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NIL Network’s Michelle Meyer aims to bring transparency to NIL’s ‘Wild West’

Michelle Meyer
Photo credit: Courtesy of Michelle Meyer

By now, it’s cliché to refer to the NIL era as the “Wild West.”

It’s true, however, that the space was categorized — particularly in its earliest days — by a certain level of chaos and disorder, where opportunity was as abundant, and individuals or groups acting in bad-faith were not uncommon. The now-hackneyed expression was not without merit.

So if NIL is indeed the Wild West, Michelle Meyer is attempting to be its sheriff.

RELATED: NIL Network establishes new verified network program for better transparency

Until recently the NIL coordinator at San Diego State University, Meyer is now putting her full energies toward the NIL Network, a database and resource platform geared toward empowering student-athletes, coaches and university administrators to maximize their NIL potential.

Crucially, the platform just launched the NIL Verified Network, a membership-driven program aimed at bringing transparency and accountability to the NIL world — a space Meyer believes is only going to grow.

What I’m really bullish on is that, I don’t think we’ve even scratched the surface on what this market is going to look like in four to five years,” Meyer said in a recent interview with The NIL Deal.

Meyer was witness to no shortage of what she describes as “bad actors” during her time with San Diego State, when students were wont to visit her office with news of agents reaching out — and their desire to get a signed contract back right away.

“It was like yeah, no, they want you to get back to them right away because it’s an awful contract, and they’re going to have your rights for the rest of your life,” Meyer said.

The worst example came last May, when a San Diego State student-athlete was approached by an agency Meyer said has worked with scores of clients across college sports. The contract, however, was “just awful.” 

“I was going, I hope this particular athlete got the first iteration of this contract, and that they haven’t signed this contract with all these other athletes that they’ve worked with,” Meyer said. 

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School administrators, like those like Meyer who were tapped to lead an NIL division, were in a tough place. They were understandably reluctant to get involved with student-athlete contracts for liability and NCAA compliance reasons, but Meyer says it was “obvious” that athletes weren’t going to go out and spend $400 or more on getting their contract vetted by a lawyer. 

What’s more, few schools — if any — across the country have the resources to pick through the good and the bad of NIL deals. Only about 40 universities nationwide have NIL administrator positions, Meyer said, according to a national audit she conducted. Everywhere else, NIL duties fall on someone who already has a full-time job, like a compliance coordinator.

“The friction I see in the space is we have a new industry that’s very start-up heavy,” Meyer said. “What [businesses are] struggling with is gaining the trust of athletes and administration, differentiating themselves from competitors and building their brand.” 

Someone, Meyer felt, needed to build a platform that would help students and administrators feel more confident, and to reward the NIL companies and agencies doing good, honest work with fair contracts. So she did it herself. 

The NIL Verified Network aims to “identify and promote” trustworthy NIL companies. Meyer has partnered with Patrick Stubblefield, an attorney and formerly the University of Oklahoma’s director of compliance, to build a thorough vetting process.

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A participating company is asked to fill out a lengthy intake form that includes their standard contract, terms of use and privacy policy; these documents are reviewed by Stubblefield, while the team checks to ensure the company is in good standing with credible banking and payment terms, in keeping with standard business verification. 

Once vetted, the company receives an “NIL Verified” demarcation on the NIL Network website’s database, as well as access to several more resources and support from Meyer and her team.  

Meyer’s passion for college sports and improving opportunities for student-athletes goes beyond her time at San Diego State. A volleyball player for UC Santa Barbara, Meyer played professionally before becoming an assistant coach at the University of Hawaii, eventually working for USA Volleyball. 

It was during Meyer’s time at Hawaii that a judge ruled in the now-famous O’Bannon v. NCAA case, elevating public awareness around the organization’s handling of student-athlete name, image and likeness rights. And in 2019, when California passed its first NIL legislation, something clicked.

“I didn’t understand before that the states could stand up to the NCAA and say ‘Enough is enough,’” Meyer said.  

She felt there was virtually nobody paying attention to the myriad, wide-ranging changes that would soon come to college athletics — and in many ways, Meyer was right. That realization led to Meyer building the “passion project” that would eventually grow into the NIL Network, which has added several features in addition to its verification service.

Meyer recently launched NIL Accelerator, a half-day seminar for anyone looking to get up to speed on all things NIL, and NIL Industry, which is geared toward people interested in starting their own NIL company. 

RELATED: NCAA’s stance on NIL, athlete compensation evolving as Charlie Baker assumes presidency

The NIL Network is also building “program blueprints,” which provides universities with a roadmap to building a successful NIL program even if they lack the resources of a high-profile Power 5 conference school. 

“I know budgets vary greatly… but I wanted to build these roadmaps to say you don’t really need a massive budget if you don’t have one,” Meyer said.