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NCAA Board of Governors Gives Green Light to NIL Benefits for its Athletes

October 30, 2019

October 29th, 2019, may now go down as a red-letter date in NCAA and collegiate athletics history, as the NCAA took its first steps in allowing its student-athletes to earn benefits from their own name, image, and likeness. This comes only about a month after the NCAA’s president, Mark Emmert, proclaimed the issue to be “an existential threat” to college sports. The sudden change in direction sent shockwaves through the college sports world yesterday, and the fun is only just beginning. Emmert has been a polarizing and controversial figure ever since he became the NCAA president back in 2010. This latest apparent defeat, at the hands of his own Association, is jarring at the very least.

The rules are changing, but exactly to what extent and to what end they satisfy the State legislators that have already drafted, and in California’s case signed bills, allowing its athletes to earn money and benefit off their NIL, remains to be seen. The NCAA was backed into a corner when over a dozen States and their legislators, including Kentucky, started to draft bills on this matter. In Florida’s case, they have plans to pass a student-athlete NIL law as early as July of NEXT year. The NCAA Board of Governors Federal and State Legislation Working Group on this issue, made up of University presidents, athletic directors, administrators, student-athletes, and commissioners, has been gathering information on this issue for the past several months, ever since it became known that California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, would sign the first State law allowing its student-athletes to earn benefits from their name, image, and likeness. Newsom did, indeed, sign that law on September 30th, about one month ago. The California law, however, doesn’t go into effect until 2023. Ever since California signed that law other States immediately began to draft their own bills, with some of those intended to be passed much sooner than 2023. This led the NCAA to quicken their response, which culminated in Tuesday’s announcement.

So, now that the NCAA has finally at least acknowledged that students can and will, in some way, be able to benefit from their NIL in the future, where will they go from here? Well, the “Working Group” plans to continue to gather information and feedback from numerous stakeholders for the next few months, through April 2020. These “stakeholders” include coaches, current and former student-athletes, presidents, faculty, and commissioners over all three NCAA divisions. This “Working Group”, maybe most importantly, and interestingly, will work with state legislators to come up with some kind of national program to rule on this issue. The real work comes in the negotiation, and it may be very difficult for the NCAA to come up with a solution that satisfies all the State’s legislators if you just go by what has already been put out there by the NCAA and the legislators in what their vision is for the student-athletes. No one, and I mean no one, knows what this could look like when the NCAA comes out with their final draft of this legislation. As of now, the Board stated that the modernization of the by-laws MUST adhere to, and be consistent with the collegiate model. That statement is the key to the whole issue from the NCAA’s point of view. What is their idea of the “collegiate model” compared to that of the State legislators?

The Board of Governors listed these eight principles and guidelines for the modernization of the rules:

  • 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

Basically all of that mumbo jumbo can be summed up in three words. “Level Playing Field”.

This “level playing field” that the NCAA loves to talk about has really never existed, doesn’t currently exist, and will never exist. And therein lies the rub. The NCAA may come up with a modernized set of rules that satisfy the States, but I don’t think that is likely. There will no doubt be some interesting deals being cut behind closed doors, as there always has been. It will be interesting to see what legislators and administrators come out on what sides of this issue, and put themselves out there over the next few months. The States have really already spoken, the ball is in the NCAA’s court now. The NCAA took a small step towards, something, but what exactly remains to be seen. Mark Emmert was quoted yesterday as saying, “The States are gonna do what they’re gonna do. We happen to believe, and I think common sense suggests, that trying to have 50 different sets of rules to run a national system doesn’t make a lot of sense. So trying to do that on a national scale is really the only way to have successful sports.” An interesting quote by Mr. Emmert, but where will you meet the States? In the middle? Towards their side or your side?

After the board gives its guidelines and recommendations, the three divisions have until January 2021 to come up with new rules and by-laws. The States clearly have the upper hand, unless the NCAA is willing to allow the free market to dictate what players earn on their NILs. The Working Group will determine where this goes. If they satisfy the State legislators, then this may turn out to be a relatively smooth transition, with both sides working together. If not, then dozens of court battles, spanning many years, will ensue. And it will get very interesting. There are, however, folks on both sides of the issue beginning to make their intentions known. Senator Richard Burr, from North Carolina, tweeted yesterday he will introduce legislation that will actually tax the scholarships as income for student-athletes earning money from their NIL. This is a ludicrous proposal and something that in no way follows the guidelines already in place for regular students. Clearly, this is a complicated and divisive issue, with powerful people, institutions, and organizations on both sides of it.

Yesterday’s vote was just the beginning of what could be the most important story and issue the NCAA has ever tackled as it pertains to the student-athletes of this country. Where do you stand? Where do you see this issue heading? Should student-athletes be able to benefit from a totally free market on their NIL? Feel free to discuss...

Tags: Mark Emmert, NCAA
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