The NCAA has shifted its stance on college athlete compensation and is restructuring collegiate sports to allow Division I student-athletes to earn money from endorsements and sponsorship deals as early as 2021. However, while this landmark consideration seems to indicate a step forward for college athlete rights, there are already signs that limitations potentially exist on the NCAA’s ability to ensure that this plan is effectively introduced.
The NCAA Board of Governors met on Monday and Tuesday last week to review recommended rule changes that would allow its athletes to profit off of their names, images and likeness (NIL).
Among the proposed rule adjustments, some changes made the cut while other rumored additions were left out. As established, the NCAA would allow collegiate athletes to profit from NIL. However, the recommendations did not include any specific procedures for doing so. What is known however, is that the NCAA hopes to establish a system that does not favor a particular individual, school or conference. In turn, the multi-billion dollar organization is calling on Congress to help standardize this emerging niche in college sports across all states.
Another omission involved the absence of group licensing, which means that the rumors of a return of EA’s popular video game NCAA Football are dead, for now at least. The NCAA stated that group licensing is “unworkable” given that there is no players association-type body to bargain on the players’ behalf. More so, group licensing could even open the door for players to classify themselves as employees of the NCAA, which would deteriorate the “amateurism” shield that has protected the association from employee designations.
Last 4 In, First 4 Out
Below is a quick run down of how athletes can and cannot be paid.
– Third party endorsements such as promoting a product or service through advertisement
– Social media influencing, i.e., Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook etc.
– Own work products and/or business, i.e., podcasts, Youtube videos, video game streaming, athletic lessons, etc.
– Personal promotion such as autograph signings, meet and greets, etc.
– Use of intellectual property from schools or conferences in endorsements
– Endorsement payments made from schools or conferences
– Facilitation of endorsements from schools or conferences
– Endorsement payments and/or booster payments as compensation for participation in collegiate athletics
“Back in my day…”
NIL rights fly in the face of the organization’s “amateurism” designation. NCAA.org features an entire page on amateurism and the organization requires all participating DI and DII athletes to be amateurism-certified before competing. The concept of amateurism dates all the way back to the NCAA’s 1906 inception. While the institution has done a remarkable job legitimizing and codifying amateurism in professional-grade sport, that foundation may face a potential threat.
Blue-chip high school basketball prospects have somewhat forced the NCAA’s hand. Over the course of the last year, the NCAA has witnessed some top-tier talent go to non-college program alternatives. The projected #1 overall pick in the 2020 draft, Lamelo Ball, elected to play overseas in Australia this past season, while the 23rd overall selection in the 2019 draft, Darius Bazley, took on a $1 million internship with New Balance. However, everything truly changed when the NBA G-League launched its professional pathway program at the end of 2018, which provided NBA prospects with a more “conventional” alternative to skill development than the aforementioned options.
The program has seen its popularity take off in recent weeks, welcoming three of the top 20 high school recruits in the country, who would have otherwise played for college programs. Jalen Green (#1) was reportedly considering Auburn and Memphis before announcing his G League decision. Meanwhile, Isaiah Todd (#14) and Daishen Nix (#20) spurned commitments to Michigan and UCLA respectively for the pathway alternative.
Moreover, others are expected to follow and for good reason – the program pays prospects $125,000 (at a minimum, top prospects like Green can make up to $1 million) and offers prospects a full scholarship to Arizona State University, which partnered with the program. However, these only outline the explicit benefits. Prospects who elect for this program (or any NCAA alternative) can already receive endorsement deals, market their own image, amongst other NIL rights, which the NCAA is currently working to introduce next season.
The NCAA is on the clock and may consider instituting these changes even sooner or run the risk of losing other top high school prospects. Further, other states are already looking to follow the footsteps of California and Florida, which have already passed their own laws permitting NIL rights. The first of those agreements (Florida) goes into effect July of 2021 and will not wait for the NCAA. The consequences of having different systems of NIL compensation in place at different times across all 50 states are certain to be wide-reaching, but at a minimum will create vast disparities in compensation. For example, if Florida is indeed the first to implement its bill, it is reasonable to expect a surge of high school talent to Florida’s Division I schools, which would tip the competitive balance in the NCAA.
There are endless considerations for the NCAA to take into account as it moves forward. It looks as though Congress will have its hands full until 2021 between dealing with the pandemic the fact that it is an election year. For those reasons, the NCAA may largely be on its own in finding an equitable solution to implement NIL rights in all 50 states. As for now however, the ball is in the NCAA’s court.