NCAA Board of Governors gives unanimous go-ahead for athletes to benefit off their names, images, likenesses

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Thanks in very large part to increasing pressure at both the federal and state levels, the NCAA has (begrudgingly) taken a huge step forward in the future of the collegiate model.  Still, though, there are myriad details to work out.

Early Tuesday afternoon, the NCAA announced that, “[i]n the Association’s continuing efforts to support college athletes, the NCAA’s top governing board 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.” According to the governing body of collegiate athletics, the Board of Governors is directing “each of the NCAA’s three divisions to immediately consider updates to relevant bylaws and policies for the 21st century.”

The three divisions have been ordered to immediately begin the process of crafting new rules related to NIL — currently, any player who profits off of his/her name/image/likeness is stripped of their scholarship — with a deadline currently set for January of 2021.

The biggest question?  What specifically does “in a manner consistent with the collegiate model” mean?  In the NCAA’s own bullet points, it appears the organization will, at least initially, be much more restrictive than the state laws already adopted or being discussed.

  • Assure student-athletes are treated similarly to non-athlete students unless a compelling reason exists to differentiate.
  • Maintain the priorities of education and the collegiate experience to provide opportunities for student-athlete success.
  • Ensure rules are transparent, focused and enforceable and facilitate fair and balanced competition.
  • Make clear the distinction between collegiate and professional opportunities.
  • Make clear that compensation for athletics performance or participation is impermissible.
  • Reaffirm that student-athletes are students first and not employees of the university.
  • Enhance principles of diversity, inclusion and gender equity.
  • Protect the recruiting environment and prohibit inducements to select, remain at, or transfer to a specific institution.

“We must embrace change to provide the best possible experience for college athletes,” Board of Governors chair and Ohio State University president Michael  Drake said in a statement. “Additional flexibility in this area can and must continue to support college sports as a part of higher education. This modernization for the future is a natural extension of the numerous steps NCAA members have taken in recent years to improve support for student-athletes, including full cost of attendance and guaranteed scholarships.”

As the train they should’ve been engineering years ago came barreling toward them in the here and now, the NCAA saw the most “existential threat” to its existence realized late last month when California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the Fair Pay to Play Act, which, beginning Jan. 1, 2023, guarantees student-athletes in the Golden State will have the right to market their name, image, and likeness without fear of recrimination from NCAA member institutions.  In the months leading up to that signing and in the days and weeks after, nearly a dozen other states indicated they were in some form or fashion in the process of crafting similar legislation, with the promise of additional states climbing along for the NIL ride as well.

All of that is in addition to a former Ohio State football player-turned-United States Congressman confirming that he “is planning to propose a new national law to give college athletes the opportunity to make endorsement money.” The congressman, Anthony Gonzalez, was expected to hold off on drafting legislation until the NCAA’s 19-person working group, established earlier this year, made its NIL recommendations to The Association’s Board of Governors this month.

With the NCAA officially embracing those recommendations — albeit with precious few details available — the machinations at the federal level are expected to increase significantly as The Association will be looking to federal legislators to implement one-size-fits-all legislation that would trump state-by-state laws that will vary in size and scope.

Suffice to say, this is a developing story that will take many twists and turns — and perhaps court stops — before the details are fully finalized.  One under-the-radar situation that could speed up the NCAA’s timeline?  A bill being introduced in Florida would go into effect in July of 2020, six full months before the NCAA’s self-imposed deadline for implementing new NIL rules.

And, perhaps most important to fans, get ready to welcome back college football video games.