COLUMBIA, Mo. — Gov. Mike Parson couldn't help but rib Eli Drinkwitz for the Missouri football coach's latest viral moment.
In a video captured and shared by Mizzou's digital team, Drinkwitz and his coaches erupted in spasms of joy Monday night, as prized five-star recruit Williams Nwaneri announced his verbal commitment to Mizzou on live TV.
Drinkwitz leaped into the arms of assistant coach Kevin Peoples, who will be tasked with coaching the blue-chip prospect when he arrives on campus in 2024. After two days, the clip had more than 1.7 million views on X, formerly Twitter.
On Tuesday, just 24 hours after Drinkwitz's eruption, Parson and lawmakers gathered in Columbia to ceremoniously sign the bill that helped put Monday's celebration into motion.
"Dennis, I got to ask: can (Drinkwitz) dunk?" Parson said to Mizzou men's basketball coach Dennis Gates.
"Touch the net," Gates quipped from the crowd at Memorial Stadium.
"It looks like he could, but I'm not buying it," Parson said. "It looks like you had some hangtime. Congratulations on that, too, coach."
Marcy Girton, senior associate athletics director, introduced Drinkwitz as "The Closer." She wasn't alone. From lawmakers to Mizzou boosters, campus leaders and colleagues in the athletics department, Drinkwitz was showered with congratulations Tuesday for an accomplishment that was largely left unsaid.
Per NCAA rules, coaches and school officials are prohibited from commenting publicly about unsigned recruits. And until Nwaneri and other verbally committed prospects officially sign with Mizzou in December, the kudos will come with a wink and innuendos.
What's clear, though, is that Missouri's approach to how athletes can profit from their name, image and likeness is providing its leading public university with a boost in recruiting star athletes.
In July, Parson officially signed House Bill 417, which further loosened restrictions on the state NIL law. The revision not only allows coaches and school officials at Missouri colleges to more actively engage with NIL negotiations, but high school recruits can now begin earning NIL compensation when they sign with in-state colleges.
Athletes who earn NIL compensation are not required to publicly reveal details of paid endorsements or contracts, so deals are often shrouded in secrecy.
But several states have rushed to help their schools with recruiting battles. Across the footprint of the Southeastern Conference, Arkansas and Texas have similar NIL laws, but Missouri's is now considered among the nation's most innovative.
At Tuesday's bill ceremony, Parson posed for photos with several Mizzou athletes and asked men's basketball player Sean East II to sign a copy of the bill on behalf of Mizzou athletes.
"I think this is a good thing," Parson said. "I think this is a cutting edge piece of legislation. … That's why this is so important, that we're setting the stage for other athletes all across this country. I don't like being in the middle of pack."
"It's a day that gives the University of Missouri a chance to lead from the front," Drinkwitz said. "And that's what I think all of us want to be known for."
NIL impact on recruiting</p>
Under the revised law, which goes into effect Aug. 28, high school recruits can start earning NIL compensation when they sign a national letter of intent, which happens in November, December or February of their senior year, "or other written agreement to enroll in a postsecondary educational institution in this state."
That second clause is critical. It clears a path for Missouri high school athletes who graduate early and enroll in college in January 2024 to sign a financial aid agreement with an in-state university, which can happen as soon as Sept. 1. Such agreements are non-binding for the athletes, meaning they are not required to attend the school but could still earn NIL payments this fall, before signing a letter of intent in December.
"It commits the school to the athlete but not the athlete to the school, like a letter of intent does," said Mit Winter, a Kansas City-based attorney who specializes in sports law and NIL activity.
Even though the Missouri State High Schools Activities Association has approved a policy that allows athletes to monetize their NIL, the inclusion of high school recruits makes Missouri's law unique nationally, Winter said.
How much will it impact recruiting for Missouri colleges?
"It would depend obviously on the kid they're recruiting," Winter said. "Where does NIL fall on their list of factors? Is it something they're thinking about, being able to monetize their NIL while they're in high school?"
This marks the second time lawmakers have amended the state's NIL law, first passed in 2021. State Rep. Kurtis Gregory, R-Marshall, a former Mizzou offensive lineman, has been the Legislature's leading advocate for aggressive NIL reform, working closely with Mizzou athletics director Desireé Reed-Francois and her team in Columbia.
"I kept saying, 'What more can we do? I want to be No. 1,'" Gregory said Tuesday. "This year, (Reed-Francois) said, 'I want to push the envelope.' I got news for you. We didn't just push the envelope, folks. We stuck a letter in it. We put a stamp on it, got it in the mailbox and the U.S. Postal Service picked it up and delivered it to the governor's desk. He signed this baby and it's the law. We're leading the country in this space."
Spurred by lobbying efforts in Columbia and from other in-state schools, including St. Louis University, the law reflects a more aggressive approach by Mizzou's campus leaders.
During the process, Gregory said Reed-Francois remarked to him, "This is so not Mizzou."
"That makes me really happy," he said, "because Mizzou has been known sometimes to be kind of back of the pack looking forward. But we're visionary here now."
Which leads to Lee's Summit, Missouri, where on Monday, Nwaneri, the top-ranked defensive prospect in the country, chose Mizzou over Georgia, Oklahoma and Oregon.
It's not uncommon for recruits to back off verbal commitments. Mizzou wide receiver Luther Burden III, a five-star recruit from St. Louis in the 2022 class, was committed to Oklahoma before flipping his pledge to MU. But landing the Lee's Summit North High phenom this week was significant for Drinkwitz's program — and almost certainly tied to NIL opportunities.
NCAA rules still prohibit schools from using NIL compensation as recruiting inducements. But like other state laws, Missouri protects state schools from authority organizations (such as the NCAA) penalizing athletes or schools for engaging in NIL activity.
"With this bill, we are going to be able to keep more of our talented student-athletes here in the state," UM System President Mun Choi said. "And that is going to be key."
Athletes aren't required to disclose deals they reach through Mizzou's preferred NIL collective, Every True Tiger Foundation. That's a common complaint with NIL: the lack of transparency — and one feature that is addressed in several pieces of federal legislation designed to create a uniform policy instead of a patchwork of state laws.
On3.com, a recruiting site that examines NIL, rates Nwaneri's projected NIL value at $386,000 annually, which the site ranks No. 11 nationally. Quarterback Dylan Raiola, a five-star California prospect committed to Georgia, has the country's highest NIL value, at $891,000. The site uses an algorithm to calculate recruits' projected 12-month growth rates based on their performance, influence and exposure.
In Jefferson City and Columbia, there's an understanding the state law could be short-lived. Congress, the NCAA or athletics conferences could approve sweeping policies that overrule state laws. Missouri lawmakers intentionally waited until late in the legislative session to introduce the amended bill so other states in the SEC couldn't draft similar bills during their sessions.
"Absent a federal law getting passed, which I think is still a long shot this year and in the forthcoming years, I think that states are still going to be the entities that are taking the lead on this," Winter said. "You'll probably see some more state laws start to spread that are similar to the Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas laws." Dave Matter @dave_Matter on Twitter email@example.com