After decades of resisting endorsement rights for college athletes, the NCAA Board of Governors last week proposed a path to permitting student-athletes to profit from the use of their names, images, and likenesses. The changes would take effect in the 2021-22 academic year.
Critics have long argued that prohibiting endorsement deals and other earning opportunities takes advantage of college athletes: They receive scholarships but no other compensation while universities, conferences, and the NCAA itself make millions off their prowess.
Pressure on the NCAA to reverse course intensified in 2019 when the California State Legislature passed a law demanding that colleges and universities in the state allow student-athlete endorsement deals. Other states have considered similar changes, adding impetus for the college sports governing organization to take action before disparate rules emerged among various states.
Some lawmakers remain skeptical, including U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., who has advocated for relaxing the NCAA’s amateurism definition. “Today is either the day that a wall of injustice around student-athletes started to crumble or the day the NCAA used more tactics to bait and switch young men and women from some of America’s most vulnerable communities,” he said on Thursday.
The rule change lists many details, but some need clarification. The NCAA says any deal must represent “fair market value,” but does that protect athletes from exploitation or block lucrative opportunities? How do companies compensate the athlete and the school for the value they add to the deal?
The NCAA also wants “safe harbor” antitrust exemption from Congress so it can impose uniformity on the deals and limit its exposure to lawsuits. The Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice is already examining the NCAA proposal and the implications for its three divisions of competing schools. —Sharon Dierberger