January 26, 2022

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NCAA inching closer toward endorsement deals for college athletes

An idea of what NCAA rules surrounding name, image and likeness compensation for college athletes could look like is beginning to trickle out.

For the last six months, NCAA officials have been discussing ways to create rules that would allow college athletes to profit from their names, images and likenesses with the goal of presenting a set of recommendations at this week’s Division I Council meeting. The impetus for change came on the heels of significant political pressure from states like California that proposed bills that would allow college athletes to be compensated for their likenesses. 

Earlier this month, NCAA vice president for Division I Kevin Lennon said the group formed to handle NIL legislation had reached a place where it could begin to share its ideas throughout NCAA membership. 

On Thursday, the Associated Press and USA Today reported on some of those recommendations. On the most basic level, college athletes would be permitted to earn money through sponsorship and endorsement deals should the recommendations be adopted. Additionally, athletes could be paid for signing autographs and memorabilia or even making personal public appearances. 

Final Four flag fly over the headquarter of the NCAA in Indianapolis, Thursday, March 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Rivaling shoe sponsorship deals?

Some other noteworthy details to trickle out from the recommendations include athletes being allowed to “enter into agreements with individuals deemed to be school boosters,” per the AP. An athlete could also potentially make a deal with a company (like a shoe company) that does not have a business relationship with his or her school. In that scenario, the jurisdiction would be in the individual school’s hands, not the NCAA’s. 

From the AP:

In one way, the recommendations go even beyond the free-market approach of the California law, which would restrict athletes from making sponsorship deals with companies that conflict with a school’s existing business relationship. For example, an athlete could not sign a deal with Nike if the school had a contract with Under Armour. The working group’s recommendations would keep the NCAA out of that decision. leaving it to each school to decide whether it will allow an athlete to sponsor a competing brand, the person told the AP.

The NCAA is still hoping to stay within the framework of the so-called “collegiate model” while avoiding any perception that it is promoting “pay-for-play.” Thus, athletes would not be permitted to reference the school they attend or wear school brands or logos during commercial opportunities. Under the recommendations, athletes would likely be able to consult with third-party professionals to assist them with these deals. Schools would not be involved. 

Earlier this month, Lennon — who described the recommendations as “robust” — said the NCAA does not want to create a “employer-employee relationship” with these rules. 

“We do need to have the right parameters to make sure that it is not a pay-for-play model, that we don’t create [an] employer-employee relationship and that we protect the integrity of the recruiting process,” Lennon said. “But even with those parameters, there is lots of room for growth and change. I’ve been really impressed with the membership that says this is the right thing to do.”

What does the timeline for change look like?

The details of these recommendations are expected to be further discussed when the Division I Council virtually meets on Friday. A final report, according to USA Today, is expected to be submitted on Tuesday when the NCAA Board of Governors is scheduled to meet. 

From there, discussions will continue with the goal of having a fully formed proposal ready for an NCAA vote by January 2021. There are still some details to iron out. For one, per the AP, the NCAA is looking to “create a mechanism to evaluate potential deals for fair market value and spot possible corruption.”

There are other questions still to be answered, per USA Today:

The person emphasized that the proposed concepts remain a long way from actual rules changes and that many questions remain, including how to deal with potential involvement of school athletic boosters, determining fair-market value of the activities that would be allowed and the prospect of group licensing.

Solutions for group licensing — the issue that most directly impacts the sale of college sports videos games — also needs to be worked out.

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