College Sports

NCAA open to letting athletes benefit from their fame. How that happens is uncertain.

Facing public pressure, most notably from lawmakers around the country, the NCAA took steps Tuesday toward allowing amateur athletes to receive compensation for their name, image and likeness.

At a meeting in Atlanta, the NCAA’s Board of Governors voted unanimously for its three divisions to consider updating rules that currently prohibit athletes from entering into marketing agreements or profiting from the sale of apparel bearing their name, uniform number or photo.

Ohio State president Michael Drake, who chairs the board, said the time has come for the NCAA to modernize its rules while still adhering to the collegiate model where athletics are tied to education and not a paycheck.

“We must embrace change to provide the best possible experience for college athletes,” Drake said. “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’s dramatic change on the subject comes a month after California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law legislation allowing athletics to profit from their name, image and likeness beginning in 2023.

While that bill was being debated, NCAA president Mark Emmert said passage of the law could render athletes at California schools ineligible.

But speaking in Charlotte at the ACC’s basketball tipoff event earlier this month, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski came out in favor of the California law because it would force the NCAA to modernize its rules.

“We in college athletics must continually adapt, albeit in a sensible manner,” Krzyzewski said. “We need to stay current with what’s happening. I’m glad it was passed because it pushes the envelope, it pushes the issue.”

Duke athletic director Kevin White told the N&O in a statement Tuesday that the NCAA’s vote “demonstrates progress towards impactful reform. To be sure, we look forward to contributing to the discussion on the Division I level.”

N.C. State athletics director Boo Corrigan agreed that Tuesday’s move is only the beginning.

“Today’s announcement can signal meaningful progress in this conversation,” Corrigan said in a statement to the N&O. “There’s still a great deal to learn and discuss as it relates to NIL and what it will ultimately look like. We look forward to continuing this conversation.”

UNC athletics director Bubba Cunningham, in a statement to the N&O, said, “Today’s decision by the NCAA was another step in what could be a huge shift for college athletics. There is a lot to be considered before anything can be implemented.”

Richard Burr, Mark Walker weigh in

On the federal level, Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), a Greensboro Republican, introduced the Student-Athlete Equity Act in Congress last March in a move to threaten the NCAA’s tax-exempt status. Should Walker’s bill become law, the legislation would amend the definition of a qualified amateur sports organization in the tax code to remove the restriction on student-athletes using or being compensated for use of their name, image and likeness.

In response to those legislative actions, a working group of college presidents, conference commissioners, athletic directors, administrators and student-athletes gathered information over the past few months to make recommendations on the subject to the NCAA’s Board of Governors at its scheduled meeting on Tuesday.

The vote toward allowing these rules changes resulted from that group’s recommendations.

But Walker said Tuesday’s decision is only a first step.

“We clearly have the NCAA’s attention,” Walker said in a statement on Tuesday. “Now, we need to have their action. While their words are promising, they have used words in the past to deny equity and basic constitutional rights for student-athletes. The NCAA is on the clock, and while they are, we’re going to keep working towards the passage of the Student-Athlete Equity Act to make sure their words are forced into action.”

N.C. Sen. Richard Burr on Tuesday posted on Twitter that athletes’ scholarships should be taxed if they are to profit from their name, image and likeness.

“If college athletes are going to make money off their likenesses while in school, their scholarships should be treated like income. I’ll be introducing legislation that subjects scholarships given to athletes who choose to “cash in” to income taxes,” he wrote in the tweet.

NCAA’s does not want amateurism model to change

The NCAA, in announcing the board’s decision, said athletes should be able to benefit only if it is in “a manner consistent with the collegiate model.”

“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,” Emmert said. “The board’s action today creates a path to enhance opportunities for student-athletes while ensuring they compete against students and not professionals.”

The NCAA does not want to change the long-standing amateurism model where athletes are not allowed to receive payment for playing sports.

Among the board’s guidelines for any rules changes are stipulations that they “make clear the distinction between collegiate and professional opportunities” and also “make clear that compensation for athletics performance or participation is impermissible.”

The NCAA also said any rules changes must “protect the recruiting environment and prohibit inducements to select, remain at, or transfer to a specific institution.”

The NCAA’s Board of Governors instructed divisions I, II and III to make rules changes no later than January 2021.

Staff writer Joe Giglio contributed to this article.

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An Illinois native, Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. Prior to his arrival in Durham, he worked for newspapers in Columbia and Spartanburg, S.C., Biloxi, Miss., and Charlotte covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly.