Rarely in his 33-year tenure as Tampa Catholic boys basketball coach had Don Dziagwa possessed such a generational talent.
Crusaders rising senior Karter Knox is a sleek, 6-foot-5 forward with a silky outside stroke, glistening pedigree (older brother Kevin was a Crusaders star and NBA draft lottery pick) and a cell phone teeming with texts from every major college coach.
“Offensively he can score three ways: knock down (3-point shots), has a great pull-up game and attacks the basket ferociously,” Dziagwa said. “Defensively, he takes charges, blocks shots and can lock down players.”
He also can create myriad opportunities for teammates. And oh, the opportunities that awaited the Crusaders this fall and winter. With Knox — a five-star recruit — on the roster, Tampa Catholic had been slated for high school showcases in Arkansas and Portland, Oregon. A third consecutive state tournament berth seemed highly plausible.
But nearly four full months before the season’s tipoff, the Crusaders’ season was derailed, and their flight plans grounded. Knox won’t play for Tampa Catholic this season, citing three significant factors that led to the decision:
Name, image and likeness (NIL).
He has moved to Atlanta to play for Overtime Elite, a pro basketball league for 16- to 20-year-olds in which players can opt to play for a six-figure salary or scholarship money to preserve their college eligibility.
Because Overtime Elite is independent of the state’s prep sports governing body, and because Georgia does not have a law precluding high school athletes from monetizing their likeness, Knox can earn money while still technically a prep athlete, according to a spokesperson for the organization.
“We like Tampa Catholic,” said Knox’s dad, former FSU receiver Kevin Knox. “I mean, the (school) gym is Kevin Knox Fieldhouse (named after his son). … Our family will always be tied and in collusion with Tampa Catholic. But what we wanted to do like (any other) individuals, we live in America. Take advantage of the name, image and likeness, and that’s what we were able to do.”
For now, Florida is among the minority of states that doesn’t allow high school athletes to benefit off such deals, forcing players to choose between accepting endorsements and playing for their high school. Tennessee is among the 28 states that permit it. So is North Carolina, New York, most of New England and a majority of the Midwest. The District of Columbia also allows it.
But those opportunities are stonewalled at the country’s southernmost state line, which was a pioneer in name, image and likeness at the college level.
“You mean to tell me that money is going to influence things to the point where Florida falls behind?” Clearwater Central Catholic football coach Chris Harvey asked sarcastically. “I mean, have you seen how many coaches in Florida are leaving (the state) to go and work somewhere else? I think at the end of the day, this is just the student-athlete version of it.”
Experts insist Florida — and the other holdout states — ultimately will get on board with prep athletes being compensated, likely sooner rather than later. Now that such revenue streams are a reality in college athletics, there’s simply no suppressing the trickle-down effect.
“I would say within the next year, if it’s not all 51 state high school athletic associations (that permit compensation), then it’s going to be pretty close to that,” said Mit Winter, a prominent sports law attorney who has worked on numerous name, image and likeness matters.
Kim Michelson, who runs a platform that helps schools, coaches and parents navigate college-eligibility requirements, agrees.
“I just think it’s a little bit like the horse leaving the barn,” she said. “Momentum has sort of started, and I think they feel like it’s just a matter of time. That’s the overwhelming feeling in these states where it’s currently prohibited at the high school level.”
But until such legislation is passed, what are the repercussions for Florida? Will more Karter Knoxes make a fast break for states that permit prep athletes to earn money off their name? Will parents who are convinced their child is a five-star prospect seek six-figure possibilities elsewhere?
And how adversely could the restriction affect the recruiting efforts of Florida colleges?
“A kid in Florida could just be like, ‘Screw it,’” said Chase Moss, founder and CEO of First Class Prospects, which represents high school and college players in recruiting and marketing. “‘I’m already getting recruited by Tennessee. Let me move to Knoxville and get some money while I can and go to college from there.’”
But while Florida maintains an I-formation philosophy regarding high school name, image and likeness, other states are brandishing flea flicker-style innovation.
Consider Missouri, which (for now) prohibits endorsement deals for prep athletes with one glaring exception: House Bill 417 allows high school recruits to enter into deals and start earning endorsement money as soon as they sign with in-state colleges.
Perhaps not coincidentally, five-star defensive end Williams Nwaneri — who hails from the Kansas City metro area and is one of the nation’s top defensive prospects in the Class of 2024 — pledged to Missouri on Monday. A day later, Gov. Mike Parson signed the bill into law.
“We’ve been criticized as a state because of our state law, which I think is unfair,” Drinkwitz said in May during the SEC spring meetings in Destin.
“We don’t criticize other people for being innovative in what they’ve tried to design for offense or defense or how they run their schemes to try to create an opportunity for success, so why would we be criticized for creating an opportunity for success with us through our state laws?”
Guidelines for prep athletes vary with each state. In Washington, for instance, athletes can’t use their school’s name, logo or uniform as part of their deals, The Seattle Times reported. Athletes in Oregon and Virginia can’t pitch alcohol, tobacco or adult-entertainment products.
Not that product endorsers are being courted in profusion at the prep level. To the contrary, most who follow the issue suggest only a precious few high school athletes — elite prospects such as Knox and Nwaneri — will be afforded opportunities to earn more than their teachers and coaches.
“It’s not that many, to be honest,” Winter said. “At the high school level, most of the people that are getting NIL deals are one of two: either your top, top superstar athlete who has a lot of brand value just based on their name recognition; or if you’re a high school athlete who also happens to have a very large social media following.”
Still, proponents of prep monetization trumpet it as fundamental capitalism; an inherent right already afforded to classmates who don’t participate in athletics. One one end of the spectrum is basketball standout Bronny James, 18-year-old son of the NBA legend who signed a multi-million deal with Nike while still attending high school in Los Angeles.
On the other is Bayliss Flynn, a Minnesota high school soccer standout who last year became her state’s first prep athlete to sign an endorsement deal, agreeing to promote a regional credit union’s debit card. Others receive only free food or gear.
“I told somebody the other day, ‘Well, (Knox) can go work at Publix, and the state would allow that where he’s going to make … minimum wage,’ ” Dziagwa said. “But he can’t sign with Panini trading cards? And Panini’s going to pay him? It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.”
Corey Staniscia, co-founder and director of USF’s Fowler Ave Collective, said most prep athletes who strike deals — at least those under 18 — would have more protections than a college athlete because parental consent almost certainly would be involved.
Michelson, co-founder of the college-eligibility navigation platform (Honest Game), said such deals help student-athletes invest in their futures at a younger age.
“Maybe starting as early as 17, 18 years old,” she said.
“And they are young, but they’re learning how to manage their money. All the life skills they gain is really bigger than NIL. Then on top of that, not every kid getting recruited is in a headcount sport. They’re not always getting a full opportunity, and the price of college is just so dramatically bigger than it used to be.
“When you think about just sort of how unaffordable it is and how there’s these positives, I can see why there’s a lot of benefits to it.”
But skeptics say each benefit is offset by a headache.
At the forefront of the concerns over high school name, image and likeness is its potential to increase illegal recruiting of prep athletes, already a massive issue in states such as Florida with liberal school transfer policies.
“Is it something where you’ve got a kid at Tampa Bay Tech or at Plant and he can’t get any (endorsements) there, but the Jesuit booster wants to help him with NIL?” said Jesuit alumnus EJ Gonzalez, the name, image and likeness director and an NFL agent at Grady Sports Agency. “I could see that being something that happens.”
Another easy-to-see issue: name, image and likeness collectives being even more involved in recruiting. That’s why SJ Tuohy — the executive director of UCF’s collective, The Kingdom — said legislative change must be carefully thought through, not rushed.
“It’s got to be in the best interest of the high school kid,” Tuohy said, “not in the best interest of the universities and the collectives.”
Others are concerned about who will monitor and counsel children with such opportunities. For the typical high school coach — who also has a full class schedule as a teacher — name, image and likeness might represent one too many acronyms heaped on a towering plate of responsibilities. Same with a school counselor.
“There’s no time in their day,” Michelson said.
Which could lead to kids being advised by someone unaffiliated with the school, such as a 7-on-7 coach, street agent or booster.
“I know in the college ranks, the programs themselves aren’t supposed to be the ones that are dealing with NIL, but the programs themselves are the ones, because they have the ability to direct money — or have people who can direct money — in their direction,” said Harvey, the Clearwater Central Catholic football coach.
“I think when it gets to high school, it’s going to be so far out of the hands of the coaches and the high schools themselves that it’s going to … change the high school experience for both sides as far as those coaches and programs involved, and the players that are involved.”
Hence the reason some are calling for both college and high school name, image and likeness guidelines to be federally mandated, instead of the patchwork of state-by-state policies that currently exist at both levels. Blanket legislation conceivably could make the boundaries clearer and enforcement easier.
Until then, this frontier will maintain what Michelson calls a “wild west” feel about it.
“I think (coaches and administrators) are nervous about it,” she said. “I travel throughout the state of Florida. The common thing I hear from athletic directors is: ‘We know it’s not here, but we know it’s coming. What can we do to prepare?’”
Sounds like a jittery homeowner bracing for a hurricane. This one’s bearing down on the Sunshine State.
While its ultimate impact remains anyone’s guess, the impact of no name, image and likeness at all in Florida is already being recognized.
Today, Tampa Catholic is without its best basketball player. Who’s to say a goalkeeper from Jacksonville, a Miami linebacker or Pinellas County point guard also won’t follow suit?
“I think a bunch of kids will definitely start moving,” Moss said. “We’ve already seen a small snippet of it. I think it’ll continue if they don’t change the rules or anything. Why not? Take advantage of this opportunity.”