Since the implementation of the new name, image and likeness permissions on June 30, NCAA compliance officers across the country are taking on new responsibilities. Nate Wood, who serves as the assistant athletic director for compliance at UNC, has experienced these changes first-hand. The Daily Tar Heel sat down with Wood to ask how his daily responsibilities have changed amid the new NIL permissions.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
The Daily Tar Heel: Can you give me a brief overview of your position and what you do on an everyday basis?
Nate Wood: My official title is assistant athletic director for compliance. I oversee day-to-day operations of compliance questions, answers, waivers, legislative initiatives and all of that kind of "compliancy" stuff. In the NIL space, I’ve taken on kind of an overview director role — there’s no real official title to it — but just kind of overseeing the NIL daily activities again, whether that's outreach and education, business development, questions and answers from student-athletes and all of that type of stuff.
DTH: When you first started hearing about NIL and what was going to possibly happen, how did you think it might affect your job and responsibilities?
NW: About a year and a half ago, we got our first draft from the NCAA of what a rule could look like, and the potential rule change had a lot of different characteristics about it. There were a lot more restrictions, a lot of restrictions where institutions could not participate in certain NIL activities, a lot more red tape — typical NCAA red tape all the way through — and just a lot more questions than answers. There was just a lot of uncertainty, so we were kind of planning for at least five or six different scenarios at the time. And that’s not even to mention the state laws that were cropping up all over the spring.
DTH: Considering the preparation you did and all of the uncertainty that came with that, how tough or easy was it to adapt to the new setting once you knew that the new NIL rules were going to be implemented?
NW: Leading up to June 30, we had several different options that were going to happen. One of those options was no NCAA rule change, and because our state did not have an NIL rule, our athletes would have been restricted and not been able to capitalize on NIL, but other states like Florida and Texas would have been. That was one scenario we were planning for, and that one would have been very difficult had that played out, because we were going to have to tell our own student-athletes that Florida State’s quarterback could go out and do a Bojangles deal, but our Heisman Trophy quarterback could not because of the school he chose, which would have killed us on all different levels, from a recruiting level and all kind of things. What ended up happening was the NCAA dropped their proposed rule and just eliminated the NIL rule as it was, and allowed all NCAA schools and student-athletes to profit off of their name, image and likeness.
DTH: How does it feel, being in your shoes, to hear about all of this stuff for so long and now one day it just starts happening, and you’re able to see these college athletes finally take advantage of some of those opportunities?
NW: We’ve always encouraged our student-athletes to be outgoing and do as much as possible. I think this is just another part of that and another pillar of that kind of work that we have already done and are doing. I think, from our perspective and especially mine, we are encouraged by it and we think it’s great. It's a little different than we have seen before. We have been on the other side, sending cease-and-desist letters to companies using name, image and likeness of student-athletes. For 80 years that’s been the case, and then all of a sudden overnight, we flipped the switch and said, "Nope, you can go ahead and do it." I think that's taken some people aback.
DTH: How do you see opportunities in the NCAA compliance field evolving over time and the responsibilities associated with the job changing?
NW: One thing we are seeing more and more of is legal professionals coming into compliance and coming into roles like this. I think that’s been a trend, and I think that’s going to continue to be a bigger trend — not only because of NIL, but all of the other things that go along with compliance, such as legal ramifications that come from running an athletic department, the rules that are associated with it and the money that is involved in it as well. I think, traditionally, compliance has been this office of rules, a governing body and the "office of no." I think we do a great job of trying to brand ourselves as a customer service business. Our job is to really provide efficient, correct and accurate information to our coaches, student-athletes, alums and community partners, and to make sure we are maximizing what we can do within the rules.
DTH: As NIL and college athletics in general continue to grow, what are you looking forward to seeing the most as a result of the new NIL rules?
NW: One of the things that I think is exciting is our partnership with Brandr and the group licensing. I think that’s a really neat thing to be able to see. At some point, we are going to see jerseys in stores, and so we’re going to have the ability to see a Sam Howell or Armando Bacot jersey hanging up in Chapel Hill Sportswear, and I think that’s awesome. The other thing is the personal growth of our student-athletes. Now they have to take responsibility for their own name, image and likeness, so they are the CEOs of their own business now. That will afford them the opportunities to learn things that maybe they weren’t going to learn without it.