College athletes just got a crack at some of the money that typically flows to their professional counterparts.
The NCAA ruled Tuesday to allow student athletes to accept revenues from the licensing of their names, images and likenesses, a move that is likely to upend the economics of college sports, where top football and basketball players, among others have had to forego the millions that often come with fame on the gridiron, court or playing field.
“We must embrace change to provide the best possible experience for college athletes,” said Michael V. Drake, chair of the NCAA’s board of governors and president of The Ohio State University, in a statement issued after the ruling body came to a decision at a meeting in Atlanta. “Additional flexibility in this area can and must continue to support college sports as a part of higher education. This modernization for the future is a natural extension of the numerous steps NCAA members have taken in recent years to improve support for student-athletes, including full cost of attendance and guaranteed scholarships.”
The NCAA made its decision after Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, signed a bill earlier this month that would allow college athletes to hire agents and strike endorsement deals. That decision was to have taken effect in 2023. The ruling would have pit some college athletes against a core tenet of NCAA play: that students should accept nothing in compensation for their skill other than an education.
The new decision is likely to have college athletes working to secure multi-million dollar agreements with manufacturers of athletic clothing and gear, among other products and send dozens of young sports hopefuls seeking representation from talent agencies and other representatives.
College sports represent a multi-billion dollar endeavor, and have helped give rise to the annual “March Madness” men’s basketball championships, as well as regional cable networks devoted entirely to a particular regional conference of universities and colleges. CBS and the company now known as WarnerMedia agreed to pay $8.8 billion in 2016, for example, for an eight-year deal that allowed their TV networks to broadcast the entire suite of the men’s tournament. That money benefits the sports organization and the universities it governs, but never the athletes whose feats draw millions of viewers to the games.
The NCAA board said it made its decision based on input collected over several months from a working group of college administrators, athletics directors and student-athletes themselves. that group will continue to gather feedback through April and then refine its recommendations, and then to devise new rules governing commercial opportunities “no later than January 2021.”
Among the concerns that rose to the fore were making certain education remained paramount for college athletes; ensuring athletes were not paid for performance or participation; and maintaining policies against inducements that would prompt athletes to select, remain at or transfer to a particular school.
“The board’s action today creates a path to enhance opportunities for student-athletes while ensuring they compete against students and not professionals,” said Mark Emmert, president of the organization, in a statement.