- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The NCAA took a major step Tuesday toward allowing college athletes to profit from the use of their names, images and likenesses — a move that dramatically alters the landscape of amateur sports and ushers in an era of big-dollar endorsement deals for top stars.

The NCAA‘s Board of Governors, meeting in Atlanta, unanimously voted to have new rules in place no later than January 2021 that will allow athletes to earn cash while they compete at the collegiate level. The board said the changes will continue to maintain a distinction between amateur and professional sports.

“We must embrace change to provide the best possible experience for college athletes,” said NCAA board Chairman Michael Drake. “This modernization for the future is a natural extension of the numerous steps NCAA members have taken in recent years to improve support for student-athletes, including full cost of attendance and guaranteed scholarships.”

The shift comes as pressure mounted on collegiate sports in the wake of California’s adoption of a law that prevents the NCAA from enforcing rules preventing student-athletes from accepting compensation from advertisers or hiring agents. The law goes into effect in January 2023, and several other states are considering similar legislative proposals.

Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, announced his support for a bipartisan bill to allow the state’s athletes to make a profit — calling it a “fight for fairness.”

The NCAA is just recognizing a “changing in the times,” said New York University associate professor and academic director or graduate programs Daniel Kelly.

“It’s not the end result of athletes getting paid, but it’s a step in the right direction,” said Mr. Kelly, who used to oversee Georgetown’s sports industry management program. “It’s a short-term solution to what the market place is asking for.”

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith and Big East commissioner Val Ackerman recommended to the NCAA board members suggestions on how to modify the rules to accommodate the change. The two led a task force that had been working since May to study the issue.

Scott Burrell, a lawyer and Georgetown adjunct professor who teaches sports business and finance, said the NCAA “felt like they had to do something to catch up.”

“I think they were in fear that they’d be left behind,” Mr. Burrell said, ‘if they didn’t start addressing this.”

Mr. Kelly said the NCAA was already studying the issue before California’s law, noting the “tides were happening.” But at the same time, the NCAA has said state laws that contradict with its rules could lead to athletes being declared ineligible or schools not being allowed to compete, according to The Associated Press.

Tuesday’s ruling elicited strong reactions from lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Republican senator Richard Burr, North Carolina Republian, tweeted he would introduce legislation that subjects student-athlete scholarships to income taxes. “If college athletes are going to make money off their likeness while in school, their scholarships should be treated like income,” he said.

Other cheered the NCAA. Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy called the proposed rule changes “positive news,” but only the first step.

“One note: pay attention to the phrase, ‘in a manner consistent (with) the collegiate model,’” Mr. Murphy tweeted. “Suggests the NCAA will still be pulling the strings.”

University of Maryland Athletic Director Damon Evans called Tuesday’s announcement a “bold step.”

“Maryland Athletics applauds today’s announcement by the NCAA Board of Governors. … Certainly, there are details to be worked out, but this move represents an evolution for collegiate athletics, and is a bold step in the right direction.”

In a statement, NCAA President Mark Emmert said the body’s decision created a path to “enhance opportunities for student-athletes while ensuring they compete against students and not professionals.”

The NCAA reported revenues of more than $1 billion based on television rights and marketing fees last year. Over time, athletes and the public have increasingly spoken out about student-athletes not getting a share of the profits. Last month, NBA star LeBron James voiced his support for California’s law — telling reporters he and his family wouldn’t have been able to “benefit at all from it” had he gone to college.

Mr. Kelly, though, said he doesn’t expect Tuesday’s news to open a pathway for the NCAA to start sharing revenue from events such as the NCAA Tournament.

“That’s a larger fight,” Mr. Kelly said. “If I’m being honest … it’s more like they conceded on this, but they’re not going to concede on that. In a negotiation, you win some, you lose some. You compromise. They may compromise on this, but I doubt they’ll compromise on the larger pie.”

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