Most details will remain unresolved, but the NCAA has taken a major step toward allowing college student-athletes to profit from the use of their name, image and likeness as early as the 2021-22 academic year.
The NCAA’s Board of Governors, chaired by Ohio State President Michael V. Drake, announced its support on Wednesday for rules changes that will allow athletes to be compensated for third-party endorsements both related to and separate from athletics.
It also will allow for compensation in other areas, including social media, personal appearances and businesses they have started.
There will be limitations. Players would not be allowed to identify themselves by sport or school, and the use of conference or school logos and trademarks would be prohibited. Schools — and boosters from those schools — cannot pay players for name, image and likeness activities.
All three NCAA divisions are expected to pass new rules by January that would be in effect for the 2021-22 academic year.
"Our student-athletes have unbelievable talents and skills beyond the classroom and beyond their sport that hopefully will allow them to monetize their NIL," said Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, co-chair of the NIL working group, on a conference call Wednesday morning.
In announcing the new proposal to allow players to profit from their name, image and likeness, Drake acknowledged in a news release that it was "uncharted territory."
It also likely was inevitable. For generations, the NCAA resisted any effort to allow players to profit from their name, image or likeness, claiming that to do so would be counter to its model of amateurism.
But the organization has been playing defense after losing some legal battles. The most significant case was one brought by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon, who successfully argued that his likeness should not have been used in a video game without his permission and compensation.
"I definitely think it’s a good idea," former Ohio State football safety Jordan Fuller said at the NFL combine in February when asked about the pending NIL proposal. "Honestly, I don’t think it’s hurting anybody if guys can get paid for their name, image and likeness. I think it’s making everything better.
"Right now, we’re playing for free. We might as well be able to make some money off the field as college players."
As Smith, Drake and NCAA president Mark Emmert said on the teleconference, the details of the legislation will be crucial.
"It is important that our compliance officers, our faculty reps, our athletic directors and everyone involved in this space contribute to developing the guardrails that we will need around these activities," Smith said. "We need to make sure that with this opportunity and the accountability and the responsibility that we are providing our student-athletes, we provide the protections necessary so that they can do it with integrity and in the right way and ultimately not be taken advantage of."
Players’ compensation will not be subject to a cap, but they will have to pay taxes on them. Smith said the amount could affect their scholarship or Pell Grant if they have that.
The NCAA is seeking legislation from the United States Congress to ensure federal guidelines instead of piecemeal ones established by individual states. Emmert said he knows that won’t be easy, especially now.
"There’s no question that passing a bill in Congress under the best of circumstances is a hard thing to do these days," Emmert said. "With a pandemic going on and an election going on, that makes it that much more challenging. Everybody’s realistic about those difficulties.
"Nonetheless, the goals that are written into this report the working group brought forward are very consistent with the values of intercollegiate athletics. Our early conversations with members of Congress … suggest that they’re not anathema to what Congress might want to do."