It’s happening. And it’s happening quickly.
The NCAA announced Tuesday that its top governing board voted unanimously to allow student-athletes to profit on their names, images and likenesses. The Board of Governors’ action calls for each of the NCAA’s three divisions to immediately consider updates to their rules and have them in place by January 2021.
“We must embrace change to provide the best possible experience for college athletes,” said Michael Drake, the board chair and Ohio State president.
This move seemed inevitable after California Gov. Gavin Newsome signed the Fair Pay to Play Act into law a month ago, making it illegal for NCAA schools in that state to bar athletes from being paid for endorsements, autograph signings and other activities.
But that law won’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2023, and there were signs that the NCAA’s old guard was in no rush to institute sweeping changes.
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany, asked during the conference’s basketball media day Oct. 2 for his message to athletes wanting to profit from their NIL rights, replied: “My point would be that the student who plays athletics in the Big Ten is in school for education first … and there’s also amazing opportunity to compete in a great conference with great recognition and, if they so choose, to prepare themselves to be a professional. (This is) not the NBA. It’s not the WNBA. It is an educational arrangement.”
Delany, whose tenure as Big Ten commissioner expires at the end of the year, said he believed the NCAA had responded to the push in recent years to help student-athletes by approving benefits such as stipends and multiyear guaranteed scholarships.
Some coaches at Big Ten media day pushed for more.
“I want student-athletes to get as much as they can,” Northwestern’s Chris Collins said. “I played with guys (at Duke) that should have gotten a lot. I played with Grant Hill. I coached J.J. Redick when every kid in America had his jersey. You want those guys to be able to take advantage because their window is small. We’re all fearful, though: What does that mean?
“I think we all want it for the players, but anytime you drastically change things, it opens up new cans of worms that you don’t know until you live with those rules. How does it affect your locker room if some guys are making money and other guys aren’t? What plan will be put in place? And how do we keep the playing field level so it does not become the haves and have-nots even more than it is now.”
An example: Top-100 recruit Pete Nance chose Northwestern in 2017 over Michigan and Ohio State. If schools like that with their larger fan bases can offer the opportunity to make thousands of dollars more for autograph signings, how would that affect the recruitment of similar players?
“I want the players to maximize,” Collins said, “but where is it going and what will it be?”
Said Minnesota coach Richard Pitino: “To me it’s the old expression -- adapt or die. I understand what commissioners and presidents are trying to preserve. But we’re moving into a new time. People are getting paid for what they post to Instagram. As stupid as that seems to a lot of people, it’s the reality. People are making a living off being a social influencer.
“So I have no problem with it and think we need to adjust to it. To me, it motivates you to be a really good basketball player because you’re going to get paid to win and be a good player.”
Coaches realizes the other benefit to this: If companies are paying players, schools would not have to. At least for now.
Among the “principles and guidelines” the board established were these:
Make clear that compensation for athletic performance or participation is impermissible.
Ensure that student-athletes are treated similarly to non-athlete students unless a compelling reason exists to differentiate.
Ensure that rules are transparent, focused and enforceable and facilitate fair and balanced competition.
Reaffirm that student-athletes are students first and not employees of the university.
Protect the recruiting environment and prohibit inducements to select, remain at or transfer to a specific school.
Change is coming. The next questions will deal with how much it will change college sports.