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NCAA Name, Image and Likeness Debate Remains More Gray than Black and White

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Louisiana State vs Yale

Last week, NCAA president Mark Emmert met with three men’s basketball student-athletes who had started a #NotNCAAProperty social media movement.  

These individuals wanted a blanket waiver regarding the Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) legislations since a couple states have bills going into effect this year. The waiver would allow all NCAA student-athletes to profit off endorsement deals while the other legislations go through the legal process.  

This got me thinking about the impact NIL legislation could have on college athletics.  

 

How we got here with Name, Image, Likeness

NIL discussions really picked up steam when California passed a bill in September 2019 letting student-athletes earn money off endorsement deals. California’s bill will go into effect in 2023 and other states have introduced similar legislation with different potential effective dates.

Nebraska already has a bill in place and Florida’s goes into effect on July 1. No states in the Big 12 have officially passed legislation, but Texas (2023), Iowa (2021), West Virginia (2021), and Kansas (2022) have introduced ones with potential effective dates. Oklahoma’s proposal does not have a potential date yet.  

The NCAA has acknowledged change is needed, but the Division I Council indefinitely delayed a vote on NIL rule changes in January after a Department of Justice letter cited possible antitrust problems.  

Congress drafted NIL legislation at the request the NCAA’s request, including a February proposal supporting a completely unrestricted market for endorsement deals. A clear timeline does not exist on when the federal legislation might be passed.

The Potential Fallout

If individual state legislations go into effect before a federal one or a blanket waiver is not enacted, schools with active bills will have a recruiting advantage. 

I’m not a legal expert and do not have the perfect solution regarding the ongoing NIL debate, but I see potential divisions and parity issues with the currently imagined NIL legislation. 

Schools in wealthy areas with numerous sponsorship opportunities should have an easier time selling recruits on their program. Schools and communities without those resources might struggle getting recruits and keeping current student-athletes happy.  

Student-athletes can step outside their local communities and use social media as an endorsement deal platform. This helps schools with less sponsorship opportunities near campus. Building up a social media brand takes time, a valuable commodity for student-athletes, which makes this a more difficult, potentially less reliable option.

 

The Florida and Nebraska bills, as do many others, state sponsorship deals must pay at the market rate. Still, giving 18- to 22-year-olds large amounts of money provides fuel for locker room problems. Players will show off their earnings, creating divisions with teammates.  

Sure, the market takes effect and the stars “demand” more, but I struggle believing every student-athlete receiving money can handle it appropriately.  

Transferring or sudden commitment changes could also increase as student-athletes shop around for the best endorsement deals. The transfer market has grown the last few years due to the transfer portal and graduate transfers. Adding easily accessible money will heighten the issue.  

And what if student-athletes never actually get the endorsement deals due to injury or because someone lied? Should they give up everything, without a solid backup plan, for money?  

More than likely, student-athletes from revenue sports will benefit the most financially from this legislation. It’s wonderful non-revenue student-athletes could earn money teaching their sport and through social media endorsements. However, that group might have a harder time landing the same endorsement deals as their counterparts in major revenue sports. Hopefully making money in other ways, even if it’s less, can suffice.  

Schools should use this as a marketing opportunity for women’s sports and non-revenue sports. The federal NIL bill does state if a school helps any individual get an endorsement deal, all sports must receive the same help. Well-financed schools, like some in the Big 12, can probably hire additional personnel without many issues. Other schools might struggle finding resources for another hire and making the position competitive with similar roles.   

The NCAA keeps fighting NIL to maintain a line between college and professional sports.

One thing the NCAA Gets Right

I’m not a big fan of the NCAA, but this might be one spot where I somewhat agree. These student-athletes already get paid through scholarships covering tuition, room, board, books, food, living stipends, and access to nutritionists, good medical care, and state-of-the-art facilities. All these things are funded by the millions made through TV deals, ticket and merchandise sales, and donations. The money is just not in a “spendable” form so student-athletes can’t use it the way they want.  

Student-athletes should make a little money off their athletic abilities, especially through coaching and social media. When social media took off in the early 2010s, the NCAA missed an opportunity to evolve with the times. Instead, student-athletes get in trouble for monetizing non-athletic endeavors on social media.  

Once unrestricted endorsement deals become a reality, though, the line between college and professional sports gets fuzzier. Playing a collegiate sport should be about the love of the game.  

If potential revenue streams dictate where a student-athlete attends school, suddenly money matters most and not education or what’s best long-term for the individual.  

Perhaps I’m wrong and the NIL bills will not change college athletics in these ways. Instead, the bills are exactly what people want and no cries over inequality or favoritism emerge.  

Even writing that, I start laughing. These bills will have unintended consequences, both positive and negative, whether we can predict them or not.   

Pandora’s Box is slowly opening. Proceed with caution.    

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