It seems as though at least once a week a story starts with “we’re in unprecedented times” or something similar. In response the historic situation we find ourselves in, we’ve seen historic responses from athletes, coaches and administrators alike. Last week was no different.
With substantial time and attention being paid to the coronavirus pandemic, how to handle its impacts on winter and spring athletes, and what it could mean for fall sports and athletic department budgets, a working group for the NCAA turned their attention last week to Name, Image and Likeness rules. It’s an issue which has been gaining steam before the pandemic turned the sports world on its head. Now that attention again is being paid to to prospect of paying college athletes, there are some interesting takeaways.
Per ESPN, the working groups recommendations, which have not yet been addressed or vote upon and would not take effect until at least the 2021-2022 year at the earliest, we’re as follows:
- Allow student-athletes to make money by modeling apparel as long as that apparel doesn’t include school logos or other “school marks.”
- Allow athletes to make money from advertisements. Athletes would be allowed to identify themselves as college athletes in advertisements, but would not be allowed to reference the school they attend or include any school marks in the advertisement.
- Prohibit athletes from marketing products that conflict with NCAA legislation, such as gambling operations or banned substances. Individual schools would also be allowed to prohibit athletes from marketing products that do not line up with the school’s values.
- Allow athletes to hire an agent to help procure marketing opportunities, so long as that agent does not seek professional sports opportunities for the client during his or her college career.
- Require athletes to disclose the details of all endorsement contracts to their athletic department. The working group would recommend further discussion about whether a third party should be involved in overseeing these disclosures in a way that prevents endorsement deals from becoming improper recruiting enticements.
The obvious caveat to tackle at the outset here is that what the NCAA ultimately puts forth as a new rule will be different from what’s being recommended. It remains to be seen just how different, but nonetheless we are getting a glimpse into the NCAA’s direction. It doesn’t appear to be great.
First and foremost, they’re actually addressing paying players. That much is a step in the right direction. Saving all the arguments about what it does to the sport and what value players are receiving currently for a moment, it’s widely accepted that intercollegiate athletics at the high major level is a multi-billion dollar a year business. Colleges and universities are making millions a year from them, college coaches are making millions, TV companies are making millions and college athletes, who produce the product being consumed, are making scholarships with some on campus perks. Something needs to change.
The proposals set forth do allow for athletes to tap into a portion of that money. This is no different than little Tommy Trombone on his band scholarship getting paid to give trombone lessons to middle schoolers in his free time, or Susie Spanish on her academic scholarship getting paid to tutor high school students in Spanish. It puts student athletes on equal footing from an earning perspective with traditional students. Granted, athletes earning potential is much greater. That’s because they generate truck loads of cash. Welcome to the real world.
From there, however, the pros appear lacking while the cons stack up. For instance, the student-athlete is allowed to appear in ads or as a paid spokesperson, provided they don’t use the school’s name, image or likeness (NIL). The sheer hypocrisy here is stunning. The entire revenue stream the schools have built is based on the names, images and likenesses of unpaid students. AJ Epenesa’s name was on the back of his jersey. The University of Iowa sends out season tickets with pictures of individual players printed on every single one. They show highlight clips of those same players to promote ticket sales and TV viewing. But the athlete can’t wear the school logo and get paid?
Why then, if the student-athletes’ NIL is totally separate from the schools’, can the school dictate the types of products the individual is allowed to be paid to promote? That’s absurd.
But it’s completely in line with entire premise of the proposals. These are intended to satisfy growing demands from student-athletes without actually giving anything up. Read through the proposals once more and you’ll notice not one deals with payments from the NCAA, individual conferences or schools. The groups making the most money off of athlete NILs are not proposing to give them a dime for them. Instead, they’re proposing to allow those athletes to do what other students are already allowed to do, with restrictions those students don’t face (I can assure you the University of Iowa does not prohibit Tommy Trombone from advertising that he is 1st chair trombone on the UI marching band and including a picture of himself in full uniform when he tries to procure students for lessons).
There is no easy solution to the current problem(s). This is a complex situation. Student-athletes deserve compensation for the product they produce. Some are already receiving it under the table. Some high school athletes and there families are receiving compensation just to attend certain schools. Bringing some of the payments above board won’t stop those black market payments. The haves of today will be the haves of a word with paid athletes. Car dealerships in Columbus are going to pay a lot more for Buckeye spokesmen than car dealerships in Iowa City will pay for Hawkeye spokesmen. The local sporting goods store in Oxford is sure to make promises of future payments to visiting recruits that the local shop in Iowa City won’t make. The University of Alabama is going to hand 5-star recruits a sheet of paper with their estimated earnings while on campus that’s going to look a lot nicer than the one drawn up by the University of Iowa. But all the problems that will exist don’t justify the status quo.
A change needs to be made and the working group setting forth proposals is a step in the right direction. The question now will be whether the NCAA can engage in a heartfelt, meaningful dialogue about sharing some of their riches, or if they’ll continue the farce of getting student-athletes what’s owed of them without reaching into their own pockets for a dime. It’s likely the latter, but perhaps we’ll at least get the return of NCAA Football.