By Ken Reed

The NCAA’s PR machine had a victory this week.

The college sports behemoth’s Board of Governors announced that it is going to relax its restrictions regarding a college athlete’s ability to earn money from his/her name, image and likeness (NIL).

Members of the media around the country ate it up. They ran stories basically saying college athletes had secured their freedom from draconian restraints against their earning abilities.

In reality, the NCAA hasn’t done a thing yet. The announcement was basically a PR response to California’s recent Fair Pay to Play Act (a bit of a misnomer as colleges won’t be paying athletes directly), which is set to allow college athletes in California to profit off their NIL, starting in 2023. Other states have followed California’s lead, with some looking to allow athletes to benefit from their NIL as early as next year.

The NCAA’s big announcement this week is really nothing more than the organization saying it will be looking into this issue some more. No rules were set regarding NIL. We don’t know what limitations might be placed on athletes’ NIL rights by the NCAA. Moreover, each division of the NCAA will be allowed to come up with its own set of rules on the matter.

It’s important to note that the NCAA laid down one major condition in its announcement: NIL rights for NCAA athletes will be exercised “in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.” Who knows what that means. But it’s a fair bet it will mean restricting the NIL rights that every other student — every other American, for that matter — enjoys.

In addition, the NCAA statement hinted at further restrictions on NIL rights by saying any new NIL rules must “facilitate fair and balanced competition,” prevent compensation for performance or participation and “prohibit inducements to select, remain at, or transfer to a specific institution.”

Fortunately, The NCAA is fighting a losing battle here. Big-time college sport is clearly Entertainment Sport, not Education Sport. Decisions are driven almost exclusively by commercial values.
College sports are a lucrative business. As but one example, college football’s 25 most valuable programs combined to earn an average of $1.5 billion in profit on revenues of approximately $2.7 billion every year.

South Carolina Senator Marlon Kimpson and Rep. Justin Bamberg plan to file a bill similar to California’s when the South Carolina General Assembly reconvenes in January. Proposals of a similar nature are being worked on in several other states, and at the federal level.

“The legislation passed in California is a sign of the times,” said Kimpson.

“The NCAA is not an amateur sports league. This is a multibillion dollar sports engine where everyone involved makes money except the players on the field who earn it.”

Things are moving in the right direction, albeit slower than they should.

Ultimately, even the best PR machine in the world won’t stop progress toward economic justice for college athletes.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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