The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Board of Governors voted unanimously on Oct. 29 to soon allow student-athletes to monetize their name, image, and likeness. The vote was in light of a bill recently passed in California that also allows NCAA athletes in the state to be similarly compensated. NCAA President Mark Emmert stated that California’s legislation, as well as calls for change from athletes such as LeBron James, were influential in the NCAA’s decision, as the organization has recently faced fierce criticism for not paying its athletes.
The NCAA needs to work through many issues before athletes can receive any form of monetary compensation. Setting rules and regulations for how compensation is distributed is key to laying the groundwork for the payment of collegiate athletes.
First off, there is a large gap between the monetary value of collegiate athletes across conferences, sports, and genders. Division I football games regularly bring in millions of viewers. A star quarterback in a well-known Division I program, such as the University of Alabama, could receive much more profitable sponsorship deals because the wider reach of his sport allows for higher potential profits from advertising. In contrast, an Olympic-level female fencer may only be able to receive pay from an advertisement for a local business. This is because not all NCAA sports are televised live and some require a subscription to ESPN+ to watch in the United States, limiting the advertisements’ reach and the potential profits for sponsors. Thus, the NCAA must regulate these sponsorships from companies to keep financial balance among student-athletes who all fall under the same governing body.
Opening sponsorship opportunities for athletes also creates an entirely new problem within recruiting. The alumni and boosters who make large donations to university athletic programs could significantly affect the decisions of high school athletes, potentially creating an imbalance within collegiate sports. This is especially relevant in sports with high viewership and high monetary value for the NCAA, such as Division I men’s basketball.
In 2018, Zion Williamson decided to attend Duke University to help him reach his ultimate goal of playing in the NBA. However, with monetary incentives open to recruits, that decision could have been altered. For example, Michael Jordan could have offered Williamson a Jordan brand sponsorship worth millions of dollars, were he to attend Duke’s chief rival and Jordan’s alma mater, the University of North Carolina. This would have likely factored heavily into Williamson’s decision. With this type of hypothetical becoming a possible reality in the future, the legislation outlining the monetization of athletes’ images and likeness must address this possible issue and ensure that recruitment stays fair across all sports and colleges.
Although similar scenarios have arisen in collegiate athletics before, they will likely increase as the new regulations are instituted and punishments must be steep in order to deter programs from cheating the system. In 2010, the NCAA investigated University of Southern California (USC) football star and Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush and found that his family was given luxury gifts and hundreds of thousands of dollars from aspiring sports marketer Lloyd Lake. As a result, the USC football program and Bush were both given heavy sanctions including postseason bans, removal of thirty scholarships, and the forfeiture of both the 2004 National Championship and the 2005 Heisman trophy. Although many regarded the sanctions as harsh, similar consequences must be the norm if programs and players begin to abuse the new rules regarding monetization.
The NCAA is heading in the right direction toward fairly compensating their athletes, but the plan remains in its early stages with many potential problems to address to ensure the success of this new proposal. The NCAA’s committee is set to issue a report in January 2020 at their annual meeting, and they have stated that a plan will be in place by January 2021. In doing so, athletes and fans alike may hope that the NCAA will appropriately consider these concerns to ensure that the only benefits of monetization are realized once the new policy is enacted.