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What The NCAA Board Of Governors’ Unanimous Vote On Student-Athletes’ Names, Images, & Likenesses Means

The NCAA announced on Tuesday afternoon that its Board of Governors unanimously voted to begin considering rule changes that would allow student-athletes to “benefit” from their names, images, and likenesses.

Because of this course of action, the NCAA’s Divisions I, II, and III entities will begin the process of considering updates to some of their current bylaws and policies in order to make them more modern. The association rattled off a specific list of some rules in which “modernization should occur,” which you can read below:

  • 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.

News of this vote set off a huge reaction on social media (read: people got excited that EA Sports might be able to bring back its “NCAA Football” video game series). Although Tuesday’s news is worthy of further discussion, it isn’t as earth-shattering as some might think it is.

First of all, the NCAA didn’t actually change anything on Tuesday. If a student-athlete went out and signed any sort of endorsement deal or agreed to allow anyone to use their likeness in exchange for money right now, the NCAA would still punish the university. All of the NCAA’s current rules are still in place, and no, the athletes aren’t able to get paid yet.

The NCAA’s press release on the matter contains a lot of PR fluff and jargon that’s important to address. Any rule change made about student-athletes “benefitting” off their name, image, or likeness would have to be made “in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.”

Of course, the NCAA doesn’t provide any concrete definition of the “collegiate model” — something that a number of athletic directors and other high-ranking officials anonymously criticized the NCAA for in July 2012. That leaves us to interpret what the “collegiate model” actually is.

If the NCAA’s prior stance on compensation is any indication, the “collegiate model” definitely doesn’t include allowing hundreds of thousands of student-athletes who compete under the NCAA’s umbrella to make money. California passed its “Fair Play to Pay” act, which will prohibit the NCAA from punishing universities whose student-athletes make money beginning in 2023, in September. The NCAA’s response to this was nothing short of harsh.

In a letter to California governor Gavin Newsom sent on September 11, the NCAA claimed the law was “unconstitutional” and would eventually lead to universities in California being banned from NCAA competition, according to TIME Magazine.

The association released a less terse statement when news broke of the law passing on September 30. It said that the law would make a level playing field “unattainable,” and a smattering of state laws similar to California’s “Fair Pay to Play” act would create confusion among everyone involved in college sports, including current and future student-athletes.

Although Tuesday’s news wasn’t as groundbreaking as some might think it is, the fact that the NCAA did budge on this issue is significant.

First, the NCAA’s prior claims about the law are probably not true to begin with. Clemson and Alabama, for example, have split the last four football national championships, and only 10 teams have been crowned national champions since 2000. Are we really supposed to believe that a “level playing field” exists within a sport in which 10 of 130 teams win a national championship over the last 20 years?

Men’s basketball has even less parity than football. Twelve out of 351 Division I basketball programs have won a national championship in this century. It’s nearly impossible to create a “level playing field” in any competitive environment, so the NCAA using that as a reason to shut down paying student-athletes is a lazy copout.

Legal experts told TIME Magazine that California’s “Fair Pay to Play” act doesn’t violate any federal statutes, and student-athletes aren’t part of a subset of the population that doesn’t have the inalienable right to make money. The NCAA’s claim that the law is unconstitutional is — you guessed it — bullshit as well.

I guess the NCAA is right in saying that a smattering of state laws would create confusion among prospective student-athletes as to whether or not they can get paid. However, a federal law — which is in the works and sponsored by North Carolina Republican representative Mark Walker — would negate those concerns.

That tangent aside, the NCAA is definitely starting to budge on the issue of paying student-athletes — even if it’s just a tiny budge. College athletics’ governing body obviously doesn’t want student-athletes to make money under any circumstances, so the fact that it’s even publicly stating a consideration of change is newsworthy on its own.

As LeBron James — a vocal advocate for student-athletes’ right to earn money — noted on Twitter, Tuesday’s news isn’t a victory in itself. It is, however, a start and a step in the right direction in the fight for student-athletes’ right to make money.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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