NCAA board approves athlete compensation for image, likeness; UConn athletic director voices support

Hartford Courant

The NCAA took the first step Tuesday toward allowing amateur athletes to cash in on their fame, voting unanimously to permit them to "benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness."

The nation's largest governing body for college sports and its member schools now must figure out how to allow athletes to profit while still maintaining rules regarding amateurism. The NCAA Board of Governors, meeting at Emory University in Atlanta, directed each of the NCAA's three divisions to create the necessary new rules immediately and have them in place no later than January 2021.

Board chair Michael Drake, the president of Ohio State University, said the NCAA must embrace change and modernize "to provide the best possible experience for college athletes."

But such changes will come with limitations, he said.

"The board is emphasizing that change must be consistent with the values of college sports and higher education and not turn student-athletes into employees of institutions," Drake told The Associated Press.

A group of NCAA administrators has been exploring since May the ways in which athletes could be allowed to receive compensation for the use of their names, images and likenesses. The working group, led by Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith and Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman, presented a status report Tuesday to the university presidents who make up the Board of Governors.

Smith and Ackerman's group laid out principles and guidelines, endorsed by the board, to be followed as NCAA members go about crafting new rules and tweaking existing ones, including:

  • Making clear the distinction between collegiate and professional opportunities.
  • Making clear that compensation for athletic performance or participation is impermissible.
  • Protecting the recruiting environment and prohibiting inducements to select, remain at, or transfer to a specific institution.

UConn athletic director David Benedict was among those voicing support for the ability of players to earn money off their name, image and likeness.

“I am supportive of student-athletes being allowed the opportunity to monetize their name, image and likeness and am looking forward to learning more about the legislative process to determine how we and our student-athletes can move forward in a thoughtful way to ensure reform is achieved without sacrificing ethical standards,” Benedict said in a statement. “The landscape of collegiate athletics has changed significantly over the last several decades and the NCAA definition of a student-athlete needs to be modernized. If a student-athlete has the capacity to benefit financially from his or her NIL, this should in no way jeopardize his or her amateur status.”

Some college sports leaders fear allowing athletes to earn outside income could open the door to corruption.

"One of the most distinctive things about college sports is this whole recruitment process," NCAA President Mark Emmert told the AP. "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 shift came a month after California passed a law that would make it illegal for NCAA schools to prohibit college athletes from making money on endorsements, autograph signings and social media advertising, among other activities. California SB 206 goes into effect in 2023. More than a dozen states have followed with similar legislation, some of which could be on the books as soon as next year.

"This is another attempt by the NCAA at stalling on this issue," said Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association, an advocacy group. Huma said the association has posted model legislation on its website that it is encouraging "all states" to pass "to ensure their college athletes are afforded economic freedom and equal rights."

The NCAA has said California's law is unconstitutional, and any states that pass similar legislation could see their athletes and schools being declared ineligible to compete. But the board also said it hopes to reach a resolution with states without going to court.

"We would hope that all who are interested in the future welfare of student-athletes would work with us to get to that point and using reasonable processes to get there," Drake said.

In addition to pending state laws, North Carolina Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Walker has proposed a national bill that would prohibit the NCAA and its member schools from restricting athletes from selling the rights to their names, images and likenesses to third-party buyers on the open market.

“We’re going to continue to communicate with legislators at the state and federal level,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said. “That’s one of the things that the board is asking of me and my staff and the membership in general, and hopefully we can avoid anything that’s a direct conflict with our state legislators.”

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) issued a joint statement Tuesday in response to the NCAA’s actions.

“The NCAA Board of Governors finally recognized that change is coming, and they need to adapt their rules to catch up with the times. We believe those rules must be changed to allow athletes to be compensated. The name, image and likeness approach has its own challenges that we must address, and we’ll be carefully reviewing the NCAA’s next steps and working on ways Congress can reform college sports,” they said. “We need to correct the inequities between what college coaches and the institutions make versus what the athletes receive and protect college athletes’ health and educational opportunities.”