Tony Elliott, Virginia Navigate Swirling NIL Waters

Name, Image, and Likeness conversations continue to swirl around college athletics as headlines seem to pop up daily from different angles. The NIL world certainly received attention at the ACC meetings this week in Florida, while the NCAA also released further guidance on the subject as it relates to recruiting.

Everyone from fans to coaches to players and more is trying to figure out where they fit in the picture. Virginia football’s Tony Elliott said coaches don’t really have a choice in the matter, but it’s a tricky puzzle right now. Think of it like someone dumping a bunch of puzzle pieces on the table but not providing you what the picture on the box looks like when you’re finished.

“I don’t think you have a choice. I think we’re just reacting to be honest with you because everything’s changing so fast,” Elliott said at the ACC meetings via the Statesville Record & Landmark. “We had a little bit of time to prepare for it and then it hit and within a year, there’s been drastic changes to the perspective at all different levels. So it’s hard to get comfortable because everything’s changing from day to day.”

The most recent discussion – or controversy depending on your viewpoint – centers on the “pay for play” situation that has evolved through NIL channels. Within the ACC, Miami fueled a lot of the conversation with donor and entrepreneur John Ruiz backing student-athletes through his business venture LifeWallet, a company less than a year into its existence.

The Hurricanes landed Kansas State transfer guard Nijel Pack and LifeWallet immediately announced a two-year NIL deal with him worth at least $800,000. The timing and connection between the two led many observers to call foul on how that works within the NCAA structure that prohibits boosters from recruiting or providing benefits to prospective student-athletes. Ruiz pushed back on that notion.

“I was navigating directly within the rules,” Ruiz said via “The term booster is irrelevant in my view because, if you have a legitimate business, it doesn’t matter if you are a booster or not. The deal is an arms-length transaction.”

Bringing the microscope back up the coast to Charlottesville, the Cavaliers are not simply weathering the NIL storm.

Virginia announced a partnership with Altius Sports in January to help “provide strategic guidance in enhancing the school’s name, image, and likeness program.” The partnership covers a range of things including workshops, marketing, and financial literacy. Outside of UVA itself, Hook Sports Marketing and Cavalier Futures both emerged in the last year to help student-athletes pursue NIL opportunities. Recent sponsorship deals for Hoo student-athletes include the 4819 Club (Reece Beekman, Kihei Clark, Chase Coleman, Armaan Franklin, Jayden Gardner, Kadin Shedrick) and FanJolt (Brennan Armstrong, Keytaon Thompson).

Virginia fans have concerns, though. Among them are whether the loose, and essentially unenforced, NCAA guidelines do anything to help steer NIL direction and if state-to-state NIL laws vary so much that certain schools simply don’t have the same opportunities.

From Elliott’s perspective, that’s where the difficulty as a coach begins. He supports the right for student-athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness but the lack of centralized rules and clarity make for unsettled feelings. It potentially puts the players at risk in some scenarios, while the coaches and schools have to figure out how it fits into the school and athletics department. Still, he sees a vision for how NIL can work at UVA.

“I’m a supporter and a proponent of NIL. I think that it’s great that the young men have the opportunity to monetize their name, image, and likeness,” Elliott told reporters in April. “I remember when I was in college, man, you couldn’t even take a free drink from somebody or you’d get in trouble. So I think there’s a lot of good