NCAA forms working group to consider name, image and likeness payments to athletes

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In the state of American politics in the year of our Lord 2019, there is an ever-dwindling list of things Democrats and Republicans can agree on. One of those issues: hatred of the NCAA’s amateurism model.

Following separate bills authored by Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) and Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) with aims on blowing up amateurism, the NCAA on Tuesday announced it has formed a working group to consider the state of its ban on name, image and likeness (NLI) payments to college athletes.

“This group will bring together diverse opinions from the membership — from presidents and commissioners to student-athletes — that will examine the NCAA’s position on name, image and likeness benefits and potentially propose rule modifications tethered to education,” said Val Ackerman, commissioner of the Big East and working group co-chair. “We believe the time is right for these discussions and look forward to a thorough assessment of the many complexities involved in this area.”

Added co-chair and Ohio State AD Gene Smith: “While the formation of this group is an important step to confirming what we believe as an association, the group’s work will not result in paying students as employees. That structure is contrary to the NCAA’s educational mission and will not be a part of this discussion.”

A close reading of Smith’s statement will reveal it is actually an admission. Those on the pro-NLI side of the aisle do not argue for college athletes to become W-2 employees of the athletics departments for which they play. Instead, NLI rights would allow all college athletes from Trevor Lawrence on down to get the best deal they can get on the open market, from Nike on down to Big Bob’s Tractor Supply.

By denying something no one’s arguing for, Smith confirms the working group will discuss the issue activists (and lawmakers) are arguing for.

Says the NCAA text:

As part of its efforts, the working group will study modifications of current rules, policies and practices. In particular, it will focus on solutions that tie any changes to education; maintain the clear demarcation between professional and college sports; and further align student-athletes with the general student body.

The Board of Governors charged the working group with writing a set of overarching principles to guide each division as it devises consistent legislation. A final report is due to the Board of Governors in October, with an update provided in August.

Yes, amateurism and all the trappings therein remains a core belief of the NCAA. But this is the same organization that forbid NCAA-sanctioned championship events from being held in states that permitted sports gambling… until the Supreme Court lifted the prohibition on nationalized sports gambling. Less than a year from that decision, the NCAA has granted itself permission to stage a championship event across the street from a casino.

Federal law saw one of the NCAA’s core beliefs wilt in the name of practical survival. Could more pressure from Washington lead to another major change?