As is too often the case, the biggest news in sports last week was made off the field. In case you missed it, and I don’t see how you did, The NCAA Board of Governors voted unanimously to permit student-athletes the opportunity to “benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.” That statement was taken directly from the NCAA’s press release, but the quotation marks are mine because I have a question. Does that mean that the NCAA only blinked, or will they totally cave?
When the NCAA made this announcement, the opinions came forth from the collegiate sports world and media in droves. Among the more popular takes was that the NCAA will never let student-athletes earn real time money from their name, image and likeness (NIL) but will instead force them to divert it through their schools to be held in escrow until their playing eligibility is exhausted. In other words, protect the model of amateurism at all costs.
The NCAA has long and stubbornly held that student-athletes should only get a full scholarship for their services to their college or university. No autograph selling, personal appearance fees or part-time jobs would be allowed. The only way to avoid corruption is to disallow any kind of extra benefit, not just money. Heck, the NCAA once had a rule that schools couldn’t provide athletes cream cheese for a bagel on their training tables. Small schools could not afford it, but some rich oil man in Oklahoma could feed it to the Sooners.
This sudden decision by the NCAA is an obvious reaction to California and other state legislatures forcing their hand. That push has been a bi-partisan take that the non-profit NCAA, universities and coaches are making millions while the student-athlete can’t even sell what is rightfully his or hers without being ruled ineligible. Remember Georgia’s AJ Green and Todd Gurley being ruled ineligible for four games, Green for selling a gifted bowl jersey and Gurley for signing photographs of himself for pay. Many see this as a moral issue as well.
The NCAA plans to take the next 14 months to create rules to govern their new NIL policy before it takes effect in 2021. The devil is always in the details, but if the NCAA insists that the schools act as brokers, or middle-men, for players who may be able to benefit, there’s that word again, from their NILs then the politicians and the courts will surely intervene. The NCAA certainly won’t be allowed to tax a player’s earnings, nor does this ruling put the schools on the hook for paying more than the full cost of a scholarship.
Personally, I don’t see a huge windfall coming for college athletes. The open market will allow a few football and basketball stars to “benefit” in the beginning, but that’s about it. Minor and individual sports athletes can hire out as instructors at camps perhaps and a few other similar opportunities may be created. I’m not gonna’ rush out and buy a Chevy just because a Georgia Bulldog advertises for a dealership, and I doubt many others will either.
I’m all for the players. If students on music and art scholarships can play gigs for pay or sell their paintings without penalty, then athletes should be able to sell their autograph if somebody is willing to pay for it. Yes, the potential for corruption is there, but isn’t it already?
Gene Walker is a retired educator who lives in Thomson. His column, “Sports Talk,” appears in the weekly editions of The McDuffie Progress. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.