Last week, NCAA officials voted to allow student athletes “to benefit from their name, image and likeness in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.” The decision marks a change from the current rules, which prohibit NCAA athletes from earning money from their participation in college sports.
“We must embrace change to provide the best possible experience for college athletes,” said Michael V. Drake, chair of the NCAA Board of Governors and president of The Ohio State University, in a statement. “Additional flexibility in this area can and must continue to support college sports as a part of higher education. This modernization for the future is a natural extension of the numerous steps NCAA members have taken in recent years to improve support for student-athletes, including full cost of attendance and guaranteed scholarships.”
In practice, the new rules are expected to allow NCAA athletes to profit from endorsements, paid autographs and other promotional opportunities. The guidelines issued the by the association included prioritizing education for student athletes, distinguishing between professional and collegiate opportunities and reaffirming that students are not employees of their schools.
The rules are expected to be finalized in 2021.
Why the Change – and Why Now?
“What the NCAA has done in the last 40 days is nothing based on principle,” said Jay Bilas, an ESPN sports analyst and former college basketball player and coach, in an interview with USA Today Sports. “When the California (“Fair Pay to Play”) law came out, they responded by calling it an ‘existential threat’ to college sports, that it’s going to ruin everything if athletes are paid,’ and suggesting California could be annexed from the NCAA. Now, like they always do, they’re reacting. They’re reacting to different state and federal governments forcing action. They’re trying to stall and say, ‘Look at what we’re doing.’ Their abandonment of any form of principle is frankly embarrassing.”
In late September, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the Fair Pay to Play Act, allowing student athletes to earn money from endorsements. Schools would not have to share the revenue earned from college sports with the athletes, but they would not be allowed to punish them for earning money through their likeness.
Other states, including Kentucky, Florida and Pennsylvania, proposed similar bills. In the House of Representatives, Rep. Mark Walker (N.C.-Rep) introduced a federal bill, which was co-sponsored by several Democrats.
“So yeah, what choice did the NCAA have?” asks Joe Nocera at Bloomberg Opinion. “…When you read the press release the NCAA put out on Tuesday, you realize that it still hopes to control the process. It says it wants athletes ‘to be able to benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.’ It is hard to know what that means since ‘the collegiate model’ has always meant ‘everybody-gets-paid-except-the-players.’”
Still, many college athletes applauded the decision. The Washington Post quotes University of Florida receiver Tyrie Cleveland as saying:
It’s a big step heading in the next direction. … I’m overwhelmed. I can’t even … I’m excited, excited for the future. I’m going to be gone, but I’m excited for the young guys coming up. … Most players agree, yeah, we should get paid for our likeness. So just seeing them making steps in the direction and not ignoring us, that’s a good sign.
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