By Ken Reed

NCAA coaches, primarily in football and men’s and women’s basketball, are pulling their hair out due to the Wild West nature of the new NIL (name, image and likeness) model in college sports today. They are having to constantly re-recruit their athletes as other schools are subtlely and not so subtlely trying to steal their best players — with multi-million dollar offers in some cases. They are having to spend time trying to build a funding collective at their schools that will allow them to compete financially for players. They are having to deal with competitors that have few rules, or in some cases, no rules, when it comes to offering athletes NIL money. Athletes, on the other hand, are getting NIL offers reneged upon after they commit to certain schools. In addition to listening to sales pitches from coaches, they are also having to sort out financial offers from boosters at the schools they are interested in.

In short, college sports are a mess right now.

Today’s NIL market was created by a few things: 1) The NCAA’s long fight to not share sports revenues with players; 2) a 2021 Supreme Court decision (9-0) in the case of NCAA vs. Alston, which declared that rules limiting athlete compensation violated antitrust laws; and 3) States growing tired of the NCAA’s refusal to grant athletes basic civil and economic rights and, as a result, creating Olympic-like NIL models in their particular states in which athletes can be compensated for their names, images and likenesses via sponsorships, endorsements, appearances in stores, etc.

Make no mistake, it’s been long overdue that college athletes be allowed to get more compensation than the standard tuition and room and board that good ol’ State U has traditionally offered. So, the new NIL model is a positive step for college athletes except for one thing: there are basically no rules. Due to the NCAA doing nothing regarding compensation for athletes in general, and NIL compensation in particular, states decided to develop their own rules and guidelines for NIL compensation for college athletes. This has resulted in chaos, for everyone involved, and an unbalanced playing field because what a given university (more specifically, a given university’s booster collective) in a given state might be able to offer an athlete is different than what another university’s booster collective in another state can offer.

The NCAA has thrown up its hands and gone to Congress begging for regulations that would standardize and limit athletes’ civil and economic rights. In addition to asking for NIL limits, they are also fighting reform efforts in Congress that would allow players to be recognized as employees. Being recognized as employees would allow all college athletes to get such things as better health care from the schools they create millions of dollars in revenue for.

The players, meanwhile, continue to lack a lobbying group through which they could counter the NCAA’s arguments before Congress and through which they could share their own issues and challenges.

The NCAA brought this current situation on itself by refusing to even consider ways that athletes could get a bigger slice of the multi-billion dollar college sports pie. Instead, they decided to fight against any and all efforts to grant the civil and economic rights to athletes that we all take for granted. The losers are the players, coaches, and fans who have to deal with the chaotic situation we have in college sports today.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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