NCAA Clears Way for Name, Image and Likeness Rules

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As more states follow California in drafting legislation that would allow college student-athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness, the NCAA Board of Governors on Tuesday decided it was time to take the lead.

In a dramatic reversal of its position on the matter, the NCAA's top governing board voted unanimously to permit students participating in athletics the opportunity to benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.

A statement on the NCAA’s website explains that the Board of Governors’ action directs each of the NCAA’s three divisions to “immediately consider updates to relevant bylaws and policies for the 21st century.” 

“We must embrace change to provide the best possible experience for college athletes,” said Michael V. Drake, chair of the board and president of The Ohio State University. “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.” 

Specifically, the board said modernization should occur within the following principles and guidelines:  

  • Assure student-athletes are treated similarly to non-athlete students unless a compelling reason exists to differentiate. 
  • Maintain the priorities of education and the collegiate experience to provide opportunities for student-athlete success. 
  • Ensure rules are transparent, focused and enforceable and facilitate fair and balanced competition. 
  • Make clear the distinction between collegiate and professional opportunities. 
  • Make clear that compensation for athletics performance or participation is impermissible. 
  • Reaffirm that student-athletes are students first and not employees of the university. 
  • Enhance principles of diversity, inclusion and gender equity. 
  • Protect the recruiting environment and prohibit inducements to select, remain at, or transfer to a specific institution.

The board’s action was based on recommendations from the NCAA Board of Governors Federal and State Legislation Working Group, which includes presidents, commissioners, athletics directors, administrators and student-athletes. The group gathered input over the past several months from numerous stakeholders, including current and former student-athletes, coaches, presidents, faculty and commissioners across all three divisions.  

The board asked each division to create any new rules beginning immediately, but no later than January 2021.

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

Drake Group president B. David Ridpath applauded the move in a statement, saying the organization is "encouraged" by the move but expressed caution.

"This statement of principles is NOT legislation and everyone should recognize that 'the devil is in the detail,'" Ridpath noted. "In the past, there have been huge disconnects between the NCAA stated principles and legislation and the term of art 'collegiate model' is not defined and is a constant moving goalpost."
The Drake Group has previously issued guidelines on how it suggest colleges and institutions could implement NIL rules. 
Ridpath also cautioned, "There are huge issues that continue to be unaddressed by the NCAA such as:
  • An unsustainable intercollegiate athletics economic system that results in the growth of non-athlete student debt from mandatory student fees and tuition increases affected by institutional subsidies of athletics.  
  • The unprecedented escalation of collegiate head and assistant coach and athletic director salaries inappropriate for tax-exemption institutions of higher education.
  • A Division I recruiting arms race building spree on lavish athlete-only facilities that further isolates athletes from the rest of student body and a normal college educational experience.
  • Academic fraud and other academic improprieties within athletic departments including extensive recruiting of underprepared athletes who do not meet published institutional admissions standards, practices that threaten the academic integrity of institutions of higher education.
  • Athletic departments and the NCAA not using their power and financial resources to address the health, medical and safety needs of college athletes.
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