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Unprecedented NCAA rule change allows athletes compensation for their name, image and likeness

On Tuesday, October 29, for the very first time, NCAA officials voted to allow NCAA athletes to benefit financially from usage of their name, image and likeness. This monumental decision came a month after the state of California decided to let the state’s NCAA athletes monetize their image via the Fair Pay to Play Act. New York state was quick to introduce legislation that mirrored California’s. NCAA officials criticized both states for attempting to pave the way to paying amateur athletes on a state-by-state basis. They argued, instead, to let the organization vote itself on the issue.

“As a national governing body, the NCAA is uniquely positioned to modify its rules to ensure fairness and a level playing field for student-athletes,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a statement. “The board’s action today creates a path to enhance opportunities for student-athletes while ensuring they compete against students and not professionals.” The “fairness” Emmert may have been referencing is the fact that the NCAA brings in billions of dollars in revenue and shares none of it with the student-athletes that help them bring it in. When one considers the billions of dollars gambled on NCAA events, such as March Madness or the College Football National Championship Game, it’s indusputable that college athletes generate a multi-billion dollar industry.

This disparity has been such a glaring issue over the past few years that NBA stars such as LeBron James, DeMarcus Cousins and Kyle Kuzma have become outspoken critics of the association. Tuesday on Twitter, LeBron tweeted: “Its a beautiful day for all college athletes going forward from this day on! Thank you guys for allowing me to bring more light to it. I’m so proud of the team at @uninterrupted bringing focus on this and to everyone who has been fighting this fight. Not a victory but a start!” Though James was never an NCAA athlete himself, he has been vocal in the movement to compensate student-athletes with monetary gains.

How exactly athletes will be compensated is yet to be understood. Each NCAA division have been told they must determine how best to do this “in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.” This means that Division I, II and III will all probably have different rules, just as they do for recruiting visits, travel and team clothing. Ohio State University’s Athletic Director Gene Smith said that the new rules will not follow the “California model,” which is essentially a completely unrestricted market. He added that the NCAA would likely stay involved as the group in charge of regulating future endorsement deals. Past that, America can’t really be sure how each division will decide to continue.

Though the NCAA reiterated student-athletes must still be treated similar to non-athletes, there are certainly concerns over the implications of money flowing to student-athletes for their play. There’s no doubting that big-name college quarterbacks, such as Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence or Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, are already larger-than-life personalities on their campuses. After all, they’re surefire NFL prospects and have amassed incredible social media followings ever since their high school careers. So, how will cash flow impact them on campus? Are they really going to be treated similar to non-athletes when they have newly-inked endorsement deals with Gatorade or Nike and are receiving profits from the new EA Sports NCAA Football video game? Many make the argument that college athletes are already paid via athletic scholarships, and that should be enough. It is true that, while not all Division I athletes are on scholarship, the vast majority of the big-name players who generate the most revenue for the NCAA are.

However, others would say that athletics is one of many aspects which make the higher educational experience great. Given that there are scholarships that schools hand out for “merit” (which can typically be whatever they decide), why should a student receiving one for athletics be treated as if that’s “enough,” given the fact that their talents produce a multi-billion dollar industry? At many colleges and universities, athletics contribute a great deal to campus culture and social life. Athletes, especially at larger Division I schools, are placed under a microscope and are constantly looked to as leaders. Is it moral for colleges and the NCAA to make names, reputations and money for themselves without compensating their stars?

Obviously, revenue generated by Division I schools greatly outweighs that of Division II and III schools. There is a huge drop off, so the prospects of Division II and III athletes making money for their name, image and likeness are dim. Though Knights athletics entered into a multi-year partnership with Under Armour and BSN Sports this past July, no individual athletes will be sponsored by either company.

So, the new NCAA decision is unlikely to affect Knight student-athletes. However, it was a huge victory for the high-profile athletes who bring so much attention to college sports. Only time will tell the ways each division decides to create the rules for monetizing their athletes. The NCAA wants each division to implement their new rules by January 2021. Regardless of whether they affect Carleton student-athletes, winter and spring sports in 2021 and beyond will be playing under different rules.

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