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Overreaction Monday: NCAA to Allow Athletes to Benefit From Names, Likenesses

In a landmark decision, the NCAA voted to allow college athletes to benefit from their names and likenesses. What that means is still to be determined.

NCAA President Mark Emmert News Conference
The NCAA is late and will probably come up short, but the announced changes are a step in the right direction.
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

In a landmark decision, the NCAA announced last week they intend to explore allowing NCAA athletes to begin profiting from their names and likenesses. This comes on the tail of new legislation in the state of California allowing for the same.

While the announcement certainly clears the path for a major shift in college athletics, it isn’t clear exactly what it will mean or when. What they did say is that they, “voted unanimously to permit students participating in athletics the opportunity to benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.”

Essentially, they voted that they agree players should be able to benefit from their own names and likenesses. But they didn’t vote to allow players to be paid and they don’t have a definitive time frame for when they’ll decide exactly what ways would be permissible to benefit and what exactly is “consistent with the collegiate model.”

The NCAA will hear proposals on what this could look like, but the ultimate outcome for now is that nothing changes. Nothing except that the door is finally cracked open.

But when that door is ultimately kicked down, what exactly will that mean for the Iowa Hawkeyes? Will it be beneficial for Hawkeye fans or will that further the gap between programs like Iowa and the bluebloods?

It’s impossible to really know, especially without any formal rules in place. However, it seems highly likely the NCAA is going to allow players to begin receiving compensation above and beyond their scholarships, room and board in exchange for the use of their names, images and the like.

The common scenario thrown around is now allowing a player like Megan Gustafson to head over to the local Scheels in Coralville and sign autographs in exchange for a small fee. Or maybe Josey Jewell gets paid a couple thousand bucks to be the new face of Fin and Feather in Iowa City for his senior season at Iowa.

Ohio State v Iowa
Josey Jewell is making good money in the NFL now, but a lot of people made a lot of money off of him while he was a Hawkeye.
Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

In principal, this seems like a fantastic opportunity. These are players who devote thousands of hours to their sports, taking away nearly any opportunity they would have otherwise had to earn income during college like the vast majority of other students - on scholarship or otherwise. For a player like Gustafson, her time at Iowa is when she could maximize the value of her athletic brand and set herself up for long term success beyond her time in Iowa City.

But such arrangements come with a great amount of risk. The above examples seem unlikely to be exploited, but what happens when we change it from Megan Gustafson to a star quarterback on the football team? And what happens when we change it from Iowa to Auburn? The potential for things moving quickly beyond reasonable and into the territory of using payment as a way to procure recruits seems quite high.

If you’re currently a donor to the University of Iowa who wishes the Hawkeyes would get more high level recruits, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to actually help them get those recruits by offering to spend some of those donation dollars on paying those recruits, once on campus, to be a spokesman for your business? Even better, if you’re paying for a recruit instead of making a donation for your per seat requirements, now those dollars are tax deductible again (for those of you who don’t follow accounting/tax policy closely, the new tax law in 2018 made donations that grant the donor a benefit, like better season football tickets, are no longer tax deductible but business expenses for, say marketing certainly are). That sounds like a great thing for Iowa.

Except for every donor looking to help out the University of Iowa, there’s at least one at schools like Ohio State and Michigan and Alabama and on and on and on. In most cases, those bluebloods have five donors for every one at a school like Iowa. And their pockets are deeper.

The common counter to that point is that a lot of those schools, particularly those in SEC country, are already paying players and recruits. That’s unquestionably true. However, if the fans of those schools are already willing to pay players and recruits when its against the rules, it’s unrealistic to expect them to suddenly follow the new rules around paying players, whatever they may be.

Cam Newton’s father received hundreds of thousands of dollars for his son to go to Auburn. How much more would he have received if everything were allowed by the NCAA?
Photo by Robin Trimarchi/Columbus Ledger-Enquirer/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

It seems quite likely those same fans would be more than willing to maximize what’s allowable under new rules and continue pushing the boundaries and exploiting the inevitable loopholes. The rich will inevitably get richer and the poor will get poorer.

But at the end of the day, that’s not the most important take away from the potential changes. As fans, it’s easy to assess every bit of news or changing rule through the lens of how it impacts our fandom, the team we root for.

The most important take away is that student athletes will eventually be able to profit from their own name and likeness. It sounds incredibly obvious, but it’s easy to forget as a fan. Our rooting interests are completely secondary to the real issue at hand. College athletes have been competing in front of thousands of paying customers and on our television sets in front of millions of viewers for years with no compensation beyond the tuition, room and board scholarships some of them receive.

Meanwhile, other students on campus, many of whom are also receiving varying degrees of scholarships, have no restrictions on earning an income. The vast majority of them, in fact, do just that. Typical students work part time jobs or have a work-study job on campus. Student athletes have thus far been unable to do so, even if they could find the time.

Instead, while they put in literally thousands of hours of work to perfect their craft, it’s the universities, coaches, networks and corporate sponsors clearing millions of dollars a year for the product the athletes put on the field and our television screens. Those athletes having an opportunity to receive some actual compensation for the product we all love to consume, regardless of how convoluted the rules ultimately end up being, is a significant step in the right direction.

Not because the scholarships, room and board they receive isn’t already compensation, but because they deserve to have the same opportunity to make money from their work as every other college student. They deserve to have a piece of the pie being created based solely on them. With everyone else making millions of dollars in millions of ways on the names, images and performances of college athletes, it’s finally time for them to receive actual compensation for those same things, in whatever form the NCAA ultimately decides is acceptable.