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Barber Shop Talk: Untangling the mess of NCAA’s new ‘name, image, likeness’ proposal

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By Eric Barber     11/5/19 9:13pm

Last week, the NCAA Board of Governors voted unanimously to allow student-athletes to “benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.” Now, before you get super excited about playing as the Rice Owls in a future EA Sports video game, it is important to note that while the NCAA announcement is a step in the right direction, it is best taken with a grain of salt.

UNDERSTANDING THE CONTEXT

To those unfamiliar with the topic: For years, there has been a debate over whether college athletes should be paid in any regard. The NCAA has been staunchly against any form of compensation for many years now, with NCAA President Mark Emmert saying in the past that it would hurt athletes’ education and damage the concept of amateurism in sports. 



Some have conceded that players being paid directly from the institutions that they attend for their performance on the field might be a bridge too far. That could prompt questions of an employer-employee relationship between the school and the players. 

However, more recently, advocates of college athlete pay have strongly pressed for athletes to be able to secure outside endorsements and paid opportunities based on their name, image and likeness. For example, a local car dealership could pay a Rice student-athlete to appear in a commercial to promote the dealer. In a different example, a Rice student-athlete would be able to sell T-shirts with their name, image and likeness on it to earn some extra cash. 

In September, the state of California passed legislation that unilaterally allows student-athletes in the state to be compensated for the use of their name, image and likeness without restrictions. The bill would come into effect in 2023, allowing plenty of time for the NCAA to potentially craft its own “name, image and likeness” rules on a national scale. 

The NCAA’s original reaction to California Governor Gavin Newsom signing the bill into law was not positive. They threatened to sue California, calling the law unconstitutional. They also threatened to prohibit California schools from participating in NCAA-sanctioned competitions. However, following California’s actions, other states such as Florida and New York started the process of proposing college athlete “name, image and likeness” legislation. 

MY TAKE ON THE ISSUE

Considering the NCAA’s stance on the issue even as recently as a couple of months ago, their announcement last week seems reactionary at best. Looking at the NCAA’s recent statement on their official website, the language they use is incredibly vague and noncommittal. Many news publications said in their headlines that the NCAA will allow players to be paid. These headlines were misleading and advantageous to the NCAA’s image. Nowhere in the statement did they actually  mention that student-athletes can be paid for the use of their name, image and likeness. The statement only says that they will be able to “benefit.” What does that even mean? The statement also says that the benefits should be “consistent with the collegiate model.” Well, in the past, the collegiate model has meant no compensation for student-athletes whatsoever. Would the definition of the collegiate model have to change?

In the NCAA’s statement, they laid out guidelines for “modernization” of the current rules, but there were no specifics given about sponsorships and paid opportunities. Frankly, the statement that the NCAA put out was a first step and a delaying tactic in response to California. The NCAA has given themselves a deadline of January 2021 to create and implement new rules. Perhaps over the next several months, we will start to see new proposals coming from the NCAA, but until then their plan to allow student-athletes to profit seems to lack substance.

There is no question that this a step in the right direction, but without the pressure from individual states, the NCAA most likely wouldn’t have done anything. It’s fair to say the NCAA’s statement should be met with a bit of skepticism.

The issue is certainly getting nationwide attention. Politicians are even weighing in, expressing their doubts about allowing athletes to profit. Sen. Mitt Romney said on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” that he wouldn’t want to see players drive around campus in Ferraris while others struggle to make ends meet. The percentage of student-athletes across all sports in the country that could earn enough money on their name, image and likeness to buy a Ferrari is incredibly slim. Sen. Richard Burr said that he would propose legislation that would tax student-athletes’ athletic scholarships if they decided to sign endorsements. This would unfairly attack student-athletes compared to other students. Would we also tax the academic scholarship of a violin player who makes money playing gigs or selling their own music? 

Progress is being made in fairly allowing student-athletes to be compensated for the value that they bring to an athletic department, but we need more details from the NCAA on their actual plan before we praise them for simply taking the first step toward doing the right thing. 



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