The NCAA’s top decision-makers voted unanimously on Tuesday that the association would start to consider modifying its rule that currently exempts student-athletes from profiting on the commercial use of their identity. The NCAA is starting the process of providing student-athletes “the opportunity to benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.”
Many speculate that the NCAA’s announcement stemmed from the passage of California’s Fair to Play Act. In late September, California Governor Gavin Newsom officially signed the Act, which created a legal right for college athletes to profit off their name, image, and likeness, into law. Moreover, the act makes it illegal for California colleges—which include more than 20 Division I schools in the state—to prevent their student-athletes from receiving compensation for the commercial use of their identity. The act won’t go into effect until Jan. 1, 2023.
For now, the NCAA will strive to come up with what it deems a better, yet likely more restrictive option than the Fair to Play Act.
While Tuesday’s announcement sounds significant, the NCAA’s vote actually changes very little for student-athletes. Unlike the Fair to Play Act, the NCAA proposal will impose specific restrictions on the market and will likely be the more influential voice when it comes to student-athletes’ endorsement deals, Ohio State Director of Athletics Gene Smith told ESPN. Along with Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman, Smith is leading the NCAA’s working group, which was created in May to address the issue.
At surface level, the NCAA is taking a step in the right direction. But upon closer inspection, the association is really only buying itself time with vague language and generous deadlines. It’s clear that the NCAA doesn’t want to pay players, and the association has merely pushed its problem back until January of 2021—when the NCAA wants to implement the new rules. The announcement is simply a response to pressure from California and over a dozen other states that expressed interest in passing similar legislation to the Fair to Play Act.
Student-athletes won’t be allowed to benefit from the proposed rule changes until the NCAA’s three boards approve changes to its bylaws. Though theoretically the board has set 2021 as a target for the bylaws to be amended, it is doubtful at best that this will be accomplished. Further, there is no guarantee that the bylaws will be significantly changed.
Neither the Fair to Play Act nor the NCAA proposal allows schools to pay athletes. Instead, they both are crafted to pave the way for student-athletes to hire business agents who can secure them outside endorsements, where their name and likeness could be used for apparel, video games, and other forms of identity-based profit.
Even if the NCAA actually does implement changes regarding its policies of students taking money from outside endorsement deals, it’s unlikely that a majority of NCAA athletes will be affected. Household names from revenue sports, like Boston College football’s AJ Dillon—star running back and MCAS ’21—would probably stand to make a significant amount of money. On the flip side, the rule changes would probably have lesser influence on student-athletes participating in sports like men’s track and field or women’s crew.
Tuesday’s announcement from the NCAA has done nothing but temporarily relieved the pressure that the NCAA was facing from state legislatures. The NCAA ultimately doesn’t want players to be paid—and it will continue to dodge substantial change for as long as it possibly can.