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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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First NIL-Related Suspension

  • The NCAA suspended Illinois star center Kofi Cockburn for profiting off NIL one month before rules took effect.
  • The governing body waited until a week before tip-off to exert whatever power it has left over the star of a ranked team.
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Photo: IndyStar-USA TODAY/Design: John Regula

The NCAA finally allows NIL. But that didn’t stop the governing body from finding a retroactive loophole to punish an athlete for profiting off it.

On Monday, Illinois men’s basketball announced the NCAA had suspended center Kofi Cockburn three games for profiting off his NIL in June — one month before NIL rules took effect. Cockburn also has to give the earnings to charity.

The NCAA waited until a week before tip-off to exert whatever power it has left over the star of a ranked team. “It wants to show it is still relevant and in charge,” athlete advocate and sports lawyer Jaime Miettinen told FOS.

To do that, the NCAA got him on a technicality:

  • In mid-April, Cockburn declared for the NBA Draft but opted to keep his NCAA eligibility. 
  • In June, Cockburn sold some of his Illinois-issued apparel through a popular site called The Players Trunk. (The Players Trunk did not respond to an interview request.)
  • Because the merchandise has Cockburn’s name on it, he technically made money off his NIL — but he wasn’t violating any rules at that time, since he planned to enter the draft.

On July 16, after the merchandise had already been sold, Cockburn announced he had decided to return to Illinois.

“Once Kofi had a full understanding of where he stood regarding the draft, he made an educated decision to return to school, work toward his degree, and continue improving his game,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said in a statement.

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