The NCAA has taken its first step towards allowing college athletes to cash in on their fame after the Board of Governors voted unanimously to permit students to “benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness.”
Specific details, however, were not released. Following a meeting at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, the NCAA board instead directed each of the NCAA’s three divisions to create the necessary new rules and have them in place no later than January 2021.
“Its a beautiful day for all college athletes going forward from this day on!” tweeted Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James, who bypassed college for the National Basketball Association. “Not a victory but a start,” he added.
The organization’s move, marking a significant reversal of its prior policy, came as the NCAA faced increased pressure from lawmakers across the United States intent on following California’s lead by dismantling compensation prohibitions that currently apply to more than 450,000 student athletes in the US.
It also now marks a decided shift by the NCAA to begin playing offense on the issue and seek to more actively shape policy on the issue as opposed to its prior, more defensive posture.
“There’s no question that the legislative efforts in Congress and in states has been a catalyst to change,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said. “It’s clear that the schools and the presidents are listening and have heard loud and clear that everybody agrees that this is an area that needs to be addressed.”
In a press release, the NCAA said that students would be allowed to make money “in a manner consistent with the collegiate model” within certain principles and guidelines that include:
- 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.
On the final point, Emmert told the Associated Press: “One of the most distinctive things about college sports is this whole recruitment process. The whole notion of trying to maintain as fair a playing field as you can is really central to all this. And using sponsorship arrangements, in one way or another, as recruiting inducements is something everybody is deeply concerned about.”
The change will likely benefit athletes in high-profile sports such as American football and basketball, which drive billions of dollars in advertising and revenue for media outlets, schools, coaches and the NCAA itself.
But the specific parameters around how those principles and guidelines will be enforced have yet to emerge.
NCAA administrators have been studying since the spring how its athletes might be allowed to garner compensation for the use of their names, images, and likeness. A working group, led by Ohio State University athletic director Gene Smith and Big East commissioner Val Ackerman, was created and presented a report at the Emory meeting to the Board of Governors, made up of university presidents.