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Two weeks after the Commission on College Basketball's findings on the scandal-ridden men's game were met with criticism in the news media, Commission chair Condoleezza Rice defended the group's work in a telephone interview Wednesday while making a strong case that student-athletes in all NCAA sports should be able to make money from their names, images and likenesses.
"We believe that students ought to be able to benefit from name, image and likeness but you can't decide a program until you know the legal parameters," Rice told USA TODAY. "That was the point. I think some of the commentary suggested that we didn't really speak on this issue. I think we did speak on this issue, it's just that we understand there's a legal framework that has to be developed first."
Rice said she thought the commission's report was "pretty clear" in its support of athletes being able to cash in once the various legal issues are resolved. But she maintains that the NCAA cannot do this while a pair of ongoing cases are pending. "I think people may have looked at the fact that we said there's a legal framework to be developed and said, 'Oh, well, maybe they're punting on this.' Nobody was intending to punt on it."
Rice strongly encouraged the NCAA to act as soon as it is legally able. This has been an ongoing conversation since the cases brought on behalf of former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon and former Nebraska and Arizona State quarterback Sam Keller. The Keller case settled, but in the O'Bannon case, a district court judge ruled that the NCAA had violated antitrust law by limiting college athletes' compensation basically to tuition, fees, room, board and books. She said the NCAA should be required to allow schools to pay athletes additional deferred money as compensation for the use of their names, images and likenesses. However, an appeals court vacated that part of her ruling.
"There is a legal framework that has to be determined, but name, image and likeness -- athletes are going to have to be able to benefit from it," she said. "I think everybody can see that. Exactly what that's going to look like, I don't think that we could design it. I don't think that today the NCAA could design it because the legal framework still has to be developed. But when I see policies that are as confused as the NCAA's policies on this, I think, 'Why haven't you gone and looked at this before?' It's really time to come to terms with name, image and likeness."
The current NCAA rules, she said, "(are) just incomprehensible. And sometimes when something's incomprehensible, you have to go ahead and say, 'This is incomprehensible,' which means it probably isn't right. And I thought that in the report, we were pretty clear, that we think the framework doesn't work."
Rice is not alone. There are currently mixed signals about who can get paid as an athlete and who cannot. While Olympic swimming star Katie Ledecky of Stanford is one of the most recent to have to stop competing collegiately in order to start earning money, Notre Dame basketball star Arike Ogunbowale recently received a waiver from the NCAA that allowed her to make money as a participant on Dancing with the Stars. The NCAA said it was granting the waiver because the show was unrelated to her basketball abilities.
"I couldn't for the life of me understand the explanation," she said, "because obviously she's there because she hit two winning shots in two basketball games (in the women's Final Four), so that's the connection."
It's time to clear this up, Rice said.
"I would hope that what the NCAA is going to do is they're going to take this moment, once they know what the legal framework is, and they are going to recognize that this has got to benefit athletes. Here I really stand with the athletes on this. It makes sense for the NCAA to have a legally justifiable framework that works, and currently the framework doesn't work."
Among the commission's other recommendations is that the controversial one-and-done rule be eliminated and basketball players who are talented enough be allowed to go to the pros directly from high school. Rice said this won't be implemented this year because teams have already recruited players under the current system for the upcoming 2018-19 season.
She hopes it is instituted for 2019-20.
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