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New Virginia law allowing direct NIL payments will be a game-changer for UVA

Chris Graham
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Fans of the money sports at the University of Virginia have been frustrated at what they have perceived as inaction on the part of Carla Williams, the athletics director UVA, with respect to NIL.

Turns out, Williams was actually being proactive.

Williams, we learned on Thursday, had been working behind the scenes for several months to lead an effort with state legislators to allow student-athletes at UVA to “fully maximize NIL opportunities,” and directed her deputy athletics director for legal and regulatory affairs, Jason Baum, to work with the General Assembly on legislation to level the NIL playing field.

The result: a bill that was signed into law by Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Thursday that will allow colleges and universities in Virginia to directly compensate student-athletes via NIL deals.

Williams, typically understated, played the cards close to the proverbial vest in a chat with reporters at a bill-signing ceremony in Richmond on what the next steps are for UVA Athletics once the new law takes effect on July 1.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do internally,” Williams said. “We want to make sure we do what’s right for UVA. The law gives us the flexibility to compensate student-athletes for their NIL, and we may or may not do that. We haven’t made any final decisions.”

Uh, huh. Williams and UVA, and the General Assembly and the governor, went to all this trouble for, you know, nothing.

It seems to me that everything that Williams has had her department do with regard to NIL the past couple of years was oriented in the direction of knowing this legislation was coming.

UVA’s primary NIL collective, Cav Futures, for instance, is headed up by a former top Virginia Athletics Foundation administrator, Lo Davis, a 1991 UVA alum who raised millions of dollars for UVA Athletics before moving over to Cav Futures, with an advisory board including UVA Athletics alums Ralph Sampson, Matt Schaub and Kyle Guy, and perhaps most notably, UVA Law professor Brian Socolow, a widely-regarded expert in sports law.

The new law, when it takes effect, will allow UVA Athletics, which led the ACC and ranked 14th nationally in athletics revenues in fiscal-year 2022, according to USA Today, to more easily and efficiently direct NIL resources to the direct benefit of student-athletes straight from the athletics department’s coffers.

The law will also end the competition for donor dollars between Cav Futures and UVA Athletics, with donors able to give money to the athletics department to use toward everyday expenses and NIL.

“The law provides much-needed and practical flexibility, but we haven’t made any decisions about which provisions within the law we’ll actually activate,” Williams said on Thursday. “We’ll continue to support Cav Futures, we’ll continue to discuss our options internally, we’ll monitor the environment, we’ll talk with our coaches, our student-athletes, and we’ll make a decision that’s best for UVA.”

That’s the perspective of the AD, measured as it is.

UVA football coach Tony Elliott was also in Richmond for the ceremonial bill signing. He was, let’s just say, less measured, saying the new law “gives us an opportunity to have a conversation without feeling like you’re breaking a rule or crossing a line that you’re not supposed to cross, and it allows us to be able to speak openly.”

“I think one of the things that we’ve got to understand is that this is all new to the student-athletes, and this brings more challenges that we need to be able to speak to,” Elliott said. “They need financial literacy, education, contract reviews that they need help and support. So, it just allows us to be able to speak openly and freely and educate, and I think that’s our role as coaches in the industry that we’re in, to educate on all different fronts.”

The sound you hear is the football coach muttering to himself about how he wished it was already July 1.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].