The NCAA’s Division I Council recommended Monday that the organization cease its long-held amateurism rules regarding name, image and likeness rights, a seismic shift in long-standing policies that prohibited college athletes from benefiting financially from their talents and fame.
The 24-member NCAA Division I Board of Directors will review and is expected to approve that historic recommendation Wednesday, the eve of the July 1 date that athletes rights advocates have been pointing toward with anticipation for months. On that day, eight of the 21 states that have passed laws enabling athletes the NIL option will see those laws go into effect.
The eight are Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky (by executive order from Gov. Andy Beshear), Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio and Texas. A ninth state, Arizona, has a law passed and going into effect July 23.
Twelve more states have laws going into effect in 2022, 2023 and 2025, but some might move to bring those laws closer to the present.
Faced with the prospect of athletes playing under different sets of rules depending on the state in which they attend college, the 40-member NCAA Division I Council, composed largely of university athletic directors, sought to even the playing field by suspending the policy that prohibited athletes from benefiting financially in such a way. It said athletes could employ “a professional services provider for NIL activities” and should report all such endeavors “consistent with state law or school and conference requirements to their school.”
The Indianapolis-based NCAA said in a statement: “While opening NIL activities to student-athletes, the policy leaves in place the commitment to avoid pay-for-play and improper inducements tied to choosing to attend a particular school. Those prohibitions would remain in effect.”
Schools have already started to partner with companies to help athletes navigate the landscape of NIL and build their personal brands. Several college athletes, some with huge social media followings, already have plans to profit once the rules change Thursday.
Under NIL rules, athletes can profit off their fame through avenues such as social media posts, appearances, sponsorships, autograph sales, endorsement deals and private training classes or camps. Even as the new opportunities have come, some longtime athletic administrators have wondered how extensive the opportunities will become.
As both the athletic director at North Carolina State and the son of influential former NCAA president and ACC commissioner Gene Corrigan, who died last year, Boo Corrigan has a rare window on the history.
“I think today changes some of that [history],” he said. “But maybe I’m an unrealistic dreamer or whatever, but I still like to think about those [old] days, and I still think of the opportunities they provided. I think it’s going to look different, but I think the core mission doesn’t change.”
He said he had told recruits, “Hey, it’s coming, and we want you to have opportunities in front of you, but the only goal is for you to leave here as a better person than when you arrived and a more well-rounded person.”
The push toward allowing athletes the NIL possibilities, which has its roots in long-held arguments and more recent court cases, began in earnest in September 2019 in Sacramento, where the California legislature approved the Fair Pay to Play Act. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law Sept. 30, 2019, on a multimedia platform with LeBron James as host, and Newsom tweeted: “Colleges reap billions from student athletes but block them from earning a single dollar. That’s a bankrupt model.”
At that time, the NCAA objected. Its president, Mark Emmert, raised the possibility of removing championship events from California. In a letter to lawmakers that July, he wrote: “The bill threatens to alter materially the principles of intercollegiate athletics and create local differences that would make it impossible to host fair national championships. As a result, it likely would have a negative impact on the exact student-athletes it intends to assist.”
The other states began to follow, and the momentum kept finding fresh stages, including June 21 when the Supreme Court unanimously sided against the NCAA in a narrow antitrust case involving athletes receiving benefits related to education. Some of the court’s language in that decision seemed to join the wave of 21st-century thought, as when Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote that the “NCAA’s business model would be flatly illegal in almost any other industry in America.”
The Division I Council had not reached a vote on the subject in January because of concerns raised by the Justice Department, and it had not come to a vote after a two-day session last week, as it examined issues such as that of athletes whose deals might complicate existing sponsorship agreements. Through previous months, the NCAA had hoped Congress would intervene to establish a blanket federal standard, but that has not occurred.
Similar committees in Division II and Division III are expected to vote on the subject by Wednesday, the NCAA said.