On Tuesday, the NCAA’s Board of Governors announced it plans to move forward marrying the concept of name, image and likeness (NIL) payments to college athletes with the “collegiate model.”
Tuesday’s announcement was intentionally vague, so as far as specifics go, it changes nothing. Despite what the Associated Press may have told you, the NCAA did not permit college athletes to profit from their NIL. College sports are the same today as they were yesterday. And yet anyone telling you “lol this means nothing” isn’t telling the truth, either. Just one month ago NCAA president Mark Emmert called NIL payments “an existential threat” to college sports.
Turns out, after getting some of College Sports, Inc.’s top minds together, the NCAA has decided to continue existing.
No longer is the NCAA throwing up roadblocks to NIL payments. Instead, the NCAA is working to craft a system in which athletes can take NIL payments in a manner that does not upend the “collegiate model” (whatever that means) — with, and this is crucial, the NCAA still in charge. The NCAA said Tuesday it wants its membership to begin carving out a system of guidelines and rules for handling NIL payments at all three levels of competition, with a deadline for implementation by January 2021. That is not nothing.
The devil is in the details, of course. And in a situation as complex and expensive as this, the devil isn’t just hanging out there, he’s built himself a 6-bedroom mansion with a pool and a tennis court.
Now, I am by no means an expert on this topic, but I have spent literal years reading and discussing this topic with actual experts. I’ve also spent enough time on Twitter to come across all the (mostly bad, largely dumb) arguments against NIL payments. Below, in Q&A form, is my attempt to suss out the major topics of conversation that are going to dominate college sports for the next few months, years and so on.
You said the devil is in the details. Can you name one of them?
The formula the NCAA will spend the next year calculating is, What is the minimum amount of changes we can make to “the collegiate model” while also getting the politicians off our back?
Remember, the NCAA is not in control of this issue anymore, state and federal lawmakers are. The absolute nightmare scenario for the NCAA is nationally approving a bylaw where athletes can monetize a non-athletic skill (say, hold a piano concert and charge tickets) while the Florida legislature passes a law that straight up allows its athletes to take endorsements with zero monetary cap.
The foxes are in the hen house, and they’re not leaving until they crack a few eggs.
Speaking of politicians, how did they react to this news?
I’d say optimistic but skeptical.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, in statement: The state "will be closely watching as the NCAA’s process moves forward to ensure the rules ultimately adopted are aligned with the legislation we passed this year." https://t.co/YcXYUq8CeQ
— Steve Berkowitz (@ByBerkowitz) October 29, 2019
Here’s North Carolina Rep. Mark Walker, who was the first Congressman to introduce federal legislation back in March.
Statement from Sens. Murphy and Romney in light of the NCAA vote today: “We need to correct the inequities between what college coaches and the institutions make versus what the athletes receive and protect college athletes’ health and educational opportunities.” pic.twitter.com/hhPYSVDGf5
— Allan Smith (@akarl_smith) October 29, 2019
And North Carolina Senator Richard Burr reminded everyone why no one wanted politicians involved in the first place.
If college athletes are going to make money off their likenesses while in school, their scholarships should be treated like income. I’ll be introducing legislation that subjects scholarships given to athletes who choose to “cash in” to income taxes. https://t.co/H7jXC0dNls
— Richard Burr (@SenatorBurr) October 29, 2019
Hold on, what has the NCAA actually committed to doing?
So far, nothing. Careful observers have noted the NCAA has not used the word “money” or “profit” in any of its message. The Athletic‘s Dana O’Neil asked Emmert about that. His response will tie your brain in knots.
“That was not meant to mean not profited. There may be benefits that go beyond something other than cash compensation. Nobody was trying to be cute.”
Not meant to mean not profited? What does that possibly mean? And “benefits that go beyond something other than cash compensation”? Is this a double-negative way to say “money” or is he talking about, like… Chuck e Cheese tokens?
From that same interview, here’s what Ohio State president and NCAA board of governors chairman Michael Drake said the NCAA would be comfortable with in regards to endorsements.
“If you were a guitar player while in high school, and you keep it up and it doesn’t affect your work on the lacrosse team, that’s easy. There will be others that are more problematic, where it looks more like compensation for pay-to-play in a different form of currency. That’s the challenge.”
Emmert also stated multiple times, “We do not want pay-to-play.” Now, it’s worth mentioning the NCAA spent years intentionally muddying the waters where people conflate the very different concepts of “accepting NIL payments” and “taking a salary from your school for playing a sport” as “pay-to-play.” So I can’t say for sure what exactly Emmert is talking about there.
Okay, let’s just assume he’s talking about money. What happens next?
Well, again with the caveat that no one knows anything, I would say NCAA leadership has come out very, very, very against the concept of high school recruits being pitched business opportunities in exchange for their signatures. This seems to be the red line the establishment is unwilling to cross and, well, God bless ’em.
In the event active, scholarship athletes win the right to take NIL payments, I can squint and see the NCAA and/or the schools creating a compliance clearinghouse to register and monitor agents, establish that athletes are paid market rate for performing given jobs/endorsements and make sure proper tax documents are filed.
It’s important to remember this ball got rolling back in 2009 when former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon sued the NCAA and EA Sports upon seeing his likeness in NCAA Basketball 09 without compensating him. The ensuing court case took five whole years to unwind, when U.S. district judge Claudia Wilken ruled in 2014 schools could place up to $5,000 per year per athlete in trust funds athletes could access upon graduation. That ruling was tossed out on appeal, and now here we are.
Won’t this just help the rich schools get richer? How are mid-majors supposed to compete???
First of all, there is no such thing as competitive balance in major college football, at least when it comes to winning the national championship. The last school outside a current Power 5 conference to win a national title was BYU in 1984. The last school(s) outside the “traditional powers” to win a title were Colorado and Georgia Tech in 1990. The last first-time national champion was Florida in 1996, and only Oregon has played for its first national championship since then. In five years of the College Football Playoff, 10 schools have reached the field and only five have won a game. Alabama and Clemson have won 11 of the last 12 Playoff games, and Georgia won the other.
On the flip side, the history of NCAA scandals shows there is an appetite outside the sport’s 1 percent for boosters to, uh, “invest” in their programs. Watch The Pony Excess if you haven’t already. It’s $1.99 on YouTube.
Furthermore, both Alabama and UAB have the same 85 scholarships to hand out. Ohio State and Bowling Green both only have 11 spots on the field at a time.
And, sure, maybe Alabama has enough boosters where all 85 scholarship players have their own $200,000 endorsements, but people that have $200,000 to hand out got to that point in life because they know how to make their money work for them. People typically “spend” because they expect to receive something in return, and the first four letters in player are p-l-a-y.
Look at it this way: Who is a better investment right now — SMU quarterback Shane Buechele, the dude slinging the ball 40 times a week on TV for the No. 15 team in the country, or Casey Thompson? (You probably don’t know who Casey Thompson is, and that’s my point. He’s the backup quarterback at Texas.)
Your hypothetical only mentioned quarterbacks. What’s going to happen when the left tackle figures out QB1 makes more than him?
Yes, the quarterback would likely make more than the left tackle, the head coach makes more than a GA, and Coca-Cola’s CEO makes more than the guy who stocks the shelves at your local Walmart. Stop pretending to be this dumb.
Won’t this hurt women and all the athletes in non-revenue sports?
Maybe, but I doubt it. FBS Football and Division I men’s basketball are the biggest sports in the country, but they’re far from the only college sports that have followings. You think there isn’t a market for UConn women’s basketball? Or North Carolina women’s soccer? Or, for that matter, Oklahoma State wrestling and Mount Union football? Sure, the market isn’t as big as Alabama football, but people care about those teams and those who do care a lot.
Coaches make significant amounts of money running camps in the summer, so what’s stopping, say, a Stanford volleyball player from making a couple thousand bucks running her own camp in her hometown during the summer? Couldn’t the quarterback at Wisconsin-Whitewater make some walking around money signing autograph at the Whitewater Pizza Hut?
By the way, it seems most of the money college athletes do make will be done on social media. That could be College Bar Z paying Skill Player X a couple hundred bucks to shoutout their Thirsty Thursday specials on his Instagram stories, or it could be Texas wideout Collin Johnson turning ads on to his 15,000 YouTube subscribers.
So, yeah, it seems most college athletes will make nothing from their NIL rights, some will make three-to-low four figures and others could make real money. And, despite what you’ve read, that could be a good thing for college sports as a whole.
I predict alot of hi-level athletes will stay in college if there are no limits to what they can make as many will be the most marketable in their careers during college. Even the highest level athletes may stay if they enjoy the college life and the endorsements that go with it
— Mark Richt (@MarkRicht) October 29, 2019
The record for early entrants to the NFL draft climbs higher with each passing year, and if an on-the-bubble junior would rather stick around an extra year to make, oh, $100,000 in endorsements rather than risk it all on collecting an NFL rookie minimum salary, well, isn’t that a good thing?
To circle back to the fear-mongering point about female athletes, maybe Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky keeps swimming for Stanford if the NCAA hadn’t forced her to leave to capitalize on her international fame.
Let’s circle back to me for a bit. Does this means I’m getting my video game back?
Maybe! Quite possibly!
Wilson: "Our position is we would love to build a game. If there’s a world where the folks who govern these things are able to solve for how to pay players for the use of their name and likeness and stats and data, we would jump at the opportunity to build a game in a heartbeat.”
— Jason Gay (@jasongay) October 29, 2019
The NFLPA this week announced it was stepping in to handle issues precisely like this one, a collectively bargained licensing deal to revive NCAA Football. We’re still a long way off, though, and it takes time to create a video game. So, I wouldn’t bet on finding NCAA Football 20 in your stocking this Christmas. NCAA Football 24, maybe.
All of this makes me uncomfortable for reasons I can’t quite articulate. Does that make me a bad person? Am I about to be cancelled?
I’ll be honest, the idea of a 19-year-old college athlete having his or her own agent makes me a little uncomfortable, too. But college sports is a multibillion dollar business, and every dime is generated off the backs of unpaid athletes. There’s not another industry in America where everyone profits off the labor except the people actually doing the labor. Ask yourself why that is.
I’m an FBS position coach. Am I going to have to figure out how to get teenagers paid now?
Again, I can’t stress enough that no one knows anything at this point, but I can say if that does happen it’ll be over Mark Emmert’s dead body.
I’m a development officer for a Power 5 athletics department. Am I going to have to compete with my own players for our donors’ money?
I’ll stress here that the NCAA emphasized multiple times Tuesday they’d like the NIL process to remain tethered to the “collegiate model.” Nothing says “collegiate model” quite like one group of adults donating money and another group of adults deciding where that money goes. But, if the anarchists in Congress win and if college athletes can make uncapped endorsements for Big Jim Jack’s Tractor Supply, and if donor classes across college sports decide they’re better off skipping the middlemen and going straight to the players, well, don’t you have to ask yourself how necessary the locker room waterfalls and the 4,000-square foot recruiting lounges are in the first place.