Tom Holmoe, left, and Kalani Sitake, right, announce the Built4Life initiative at BYU Football Media Day on June 17, 2021. (Addie Blacker)

BYU confirms NCAA is not investigating Built Bar, other NIL deals

The Daily Universe confirmed the NCAA is not investigating BYU’s team-wide Name, Image and Likeness deals, such as the Built Bar deal with all football players, despite reports to the contrary in recent months.

During a Jan. 27 press briefing, athletic director Tom Holmoe said the word “investigation” was not an accurate representation of the NCAA’s conversations with BYU. The organization called and asked questions to understand how the Built Bar deal came to be, largely due to the ongoing learning process for all parties with the new NIL landscape.

“We feel like right now at this point in time that we’re in a good spot. We’ve been under investigation at BYU in the past for NCAA violations, it doesn’t feel anything like those investigations,” Holmoe said.

Holmoe’s comments on the NIL “investigation” can be found from the 30:37 to the 32:37 mark of this video. (BYU Athletics)

BYU NIL coordinator Randy Smith, who assists associate athletic director Gary Veron with all things NIL, confirmed in an interview that the NCAA asked questions, but there is no active investigation.

“They seem very satisfied with the answers they received from the university and from the athletic department. There’s been no follow-up saying, well, why did you do this, or anything?” Smith said. “It was just, here’s the questions about what happened, here’s the response. And by the time that report came out, man it was three months or so after? We already answered the questions and they said, ‘looks good.'”

At some point, the NCAA will make permanent rules about NIL beyond the interim ones currently in place, so the organization is learning as it goes to be more informed when that time does come.

“It appears that what they wanted to do is try to learn what does the box look like that is being formed naturally, and get information,” Smith said.

Built Brands founder Nick Greer, left, congratulates walk-on quarterback Nick Billoups, right, on NIL agreement to pay tuition. Greer then proceeded to offer deals to the rest of the football team. (Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)

Smith added that the NCAA wanted to ensure that the Built Bar deal was not brokered by the university or athletic department. They were especially curious about the Built Bar announcement being done on campus at the Student-Athlete Building. As a result, this served as a learning moment. When SmartyStreets wanted to make a deal with all female BYU athletes, the athletic department requested they do their announcement off-campus.

Smith said the NCAA did not come back and ask any further questions after the completion of the SmartyStreets deal.

BYU’s role in NIL deals is very limited. If a sponsor wants to make an agreement with an athlete, whether that is one athlete or an entire team, the athletic department helps them get in touch with the athlete in question. The athlete also fills out a form disclosing the final agreement to the university for tracking purposes to ensure compliance as much as possible, but no deal goes through the school.

“If you, (a sponsor), come to us and you want to do a deal, we’ll try to teach you the rules and we’ll try to line you up with some athletes, or at least let athletes know it’s available,” Smith said. “But we’re not gonna be in the middle, we’re not gonna be in charge of putting the deal together. No money comes to us, it has to go from you directly to the athlete.”

The BYU women’s volleyball team poses at the SmartyStreets announcement of the NIL deal with all female BYU athletes at the Provo Marriott. (Tayler Hifo)

While the rules surrounding NIL are still somewhat vague and limited, there is one rule that is clear: athletes cannot be paid for play.

Lyle Adams is the CEO of Spry, a company dedicated to understanding NIL rules and helping universities with tracking and compliance.

While not directly familiar with the NCAA’s conversations on BYU, Adams says making sure team-wide deals are not “pay-for-play” is the key to compliance. He agrees that the NCAA was likely “in a discovery situation” when talking to BYU, especially given the trailblazing nature of the Built Bar deal.

“I think the NCAA is trying to get more clarity on the (Built Bar) deal,” Adams said. “If you give everyone on the team a deal, can it be now construed as a pay-for-play opportunity? Until you can actually see the deal you don’t normally know how it’s constructed. So, if I am now putting myself in the shoes of a governing body or institution, I’m just trying to now get clarity on what these deals are.”

BYU’s Smith is confident that no athletes are receiving pay-for-play payments, particularly as it relates to team-wide NIL deals. Each athlete has to make an individual agreement with the sponsor, and there must be a quid-pro-quo where the athlete does something beyond playing their sport to merit compensation. That way, any player who chooses not to make an agreement can do so on their own.

The other thorny issue surrounding team-wide deals as it relates to pay-for-play is recruiting. Sponsors cannot make NIL offers until an athlete is on a team and enrolled in school, and BYU cannot mention deals during recruiting.

“The only problem about the Built Bar deal is it was so public that now how does someone not know about that if they’re gonna walk on someplace,” Smith said. “They say, ‘ooh I can get, $3,000…if I go to BYU.’ We try not to ever talk about that or do anything about any specific deals during the recruiting process. What they hear on the street or what they read, I guess that’s gonna be a benefit, but not something that we’re going to exploit.”

While BYU’s athletic department is not in the middle of NIL deals, they are actively trying to support their athletes however they can. Last June, BYU announced the Built4Life program, which helps athletes develop life skills, learn how to brand themselves in the NIL market and prepare for their next steps after college.

Tom Holmoe, left, and Kalani Sitake, right, announce the Built4Life initiative at BYU Football Media Day on June 17, 2021. (Addie Blacker)

Smith added that as of Feb. 23, around 85 companies have made NIL deals with over 700 BYU athletes. While the team-wide deals were some of the first of their kind, they are no longer unique. Adams and the Spry team is aware of several similar multiple-athlete deals around the country, including at Mississippi State, Tennessee and Auburn.

The Daily Universe reached out to the NCAA for confirmation on the status of any potential investigation and received the following statement from associate director of communications Meghan Durham.

“Due to confidentiality rules put in place by NCAA member schools, the NCAA does not comment on current, pending or potential investigations.”

Durham also provided a link to an overview of the NCAA infractions process. Notably, the process includes information review before a formal investigation is launched, if one is required at all. Smith is confident there is no investigation from the NCAA because after the organization first called and asked questions around six months ago, “there hasn’t been any follow-up at all.”

The lack of further involvement from the NCAA was reinforced by BYU’s official statement, provided to The Daily Universe and other media outlets about reports of an investigation.

“We have communicated with the NCAA concerning the Built Bar NIL arrangement. They have informed us they do not have any additional questions at this time. We will continue to monitor and abide by the NCAA interim NIL policy,” associate athletic director Jon McBride said on Jan. 18.

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