By Ralph D. Russo
The NCAA took a major step Tuesday toward allowing college athletes to cash in on their fame, voting to permit them to “benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness.”
The nation’s largest governing body for college sports and its member schools now must figure out how to allow athletes to profit — something they have fought against doing for years — while still maintaining rules regarding amateurism. The NCAA Board of Governors, meeting at Emory University in Atlanta, directed each of the NCAA’s three divisions to create the necessary new rules immediately and have them in place no later than January 2021.
Board chair Michael Drake, president of the Ohio State University, said the NCAA must embrace change and modernize “to provide the best possible experience for college athletes.”
But such changes will come with limitations, he said.
“The board is emphasizing that change must be consistent with the values of college sports and higher education and not turn student-athletes into employees of institutions,” Drake told The Associated Press.
A group of NCAA administrators has been exploring since May the ways in which athletes could be allowed to receive compensation for the use of their names, images and likenesses. The working group, led by Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith and Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman, presented a status report Tuesday to the university presidents who make up the Board of Governors.
Smith and Ackerman’s group laid out principles and guidelines, endorsed by the board, to be followed as NCAA members go about crafting new rules and tweaking existing ones, including:
Some college sports leaders fear allowing athletes to earn outside income could open the door to corruption.
“One of the most distinctive things about college sports is this whole recruitment process,” NCAA President Mark Emmert told the AP. “The whole notion of trying to maintain as fair a playing field as you can is really central to all this. And using sponsorship arrangements, in one way or another, as recruiting inducements is something everybody is deeply concerned about.”
Ackerman and Smith said the challenges lie in determining what regulations need to be set in place; what markets athletes should be allowed to access; what entities and individuals they should be permitted to work with; and whether the schools themselves could provide funds to athletes through licensing deals.
The NCAA’s move came a month after California passed a law that would make it illegal for NCAA schools to prohibit college athletes from making money on endorsements, autograph signings and social media advertising, among other activities.
“California has made it clear that we won’t accept any arbitrary limitations on college athletes’ right to their name, image, and likeness,” state Sen. Nancy Skinner, who co-sponsored the bill, posted in Twitter.
The California law goes into effect in 2023. More than a dozen states have followed with similar legislation, some of which could be on the books as soon as next year.
“This is another attempt by the NCAA at stalling on this issue,” said Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association, an advocacy group.
It’s hard to say exactly how much athletes could fetch on an open market for their names. It could range from a few hundred dollars for creating personalized video and audio greetings for fans through companies such as Cameo, to thousands of dollars for doing television advertisements for local businesses.
NCAA rules allow for an athletic scholarship that covers tuition, room and board, books and a cost-of-attendance stipend. The cost of attendance is determined by the institution using federal guidelines and generally ranges from $2,000-$5,000 per semester.
Gabe Feldman, director of the Tulane University sports law program, said the NCAA has taken an important step by recognizing its rules are antiquated.
“But the ultimate question is how are the rules modified to both allow college athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness while also being consistent with the collegiate model,” Feldman said.
The NCAA has said California’s law is unconstitutional, and any states that pass similar legislation could see their athletes and schools being declared ineligible to compete. But the board also said it hopes to reach a resolution with states without going to court.
In addition to pending state laws, North Carolina Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Walker has proposed a national bill that would prohibit the NCAA and its member schools from restricting athletes from selling the rights to their names, images and likenesses to third-party buyers on the open market.
“We’re going to continue to communicate with legislators at the state and federal level,” Emmert said. “That’s one of the things that the board is asking of me and my staff and the membership in general, and hopefully we can avoid anything that’s a direct conflict with our state legislators.”