In what could — and I emphasize the word could — be a landmark decision, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, better known as the NCAA, may begin to allow college athletes to reap some of the rewards that have traditionally been directed to the colleges and coaches only.
Now, before you determine that this is purely a sports issue, consider that it has to do with economics and personal freedoms that have been denied college athletes but are available to other students.
The NCAA isn’t doing this because it suddenly became enlightened. The organization is reacting to legislation — already signed by the governor in California and with similar proposals in several other states — that would allow college athletes to earn money from the use of their names, likenesses, etc.
Historically, schools and coaches have been able to use photos and other representations of their athletes in marketing and advertising campaigns where the school and/or the coach were paid, often very handsomely, for their participation in said campaign. The athletes used in the campaigns have received no monetary compensation and, at best, got a bit of the product that was being touted.
An example of this was reported by Nathan Ruiz and Don Markus of The Baltimore Sun. In the early/mid 1970s, Converse was the premier manufacturer of basketball shoes, and in one ad campaign, Lefty Driesell and a group of players from the University of Maryland were featured in a poster for the company as part of the coach’s deal with it. The coach was paid well for his part of the deal, but the players, one of whom was Len Elmore — an All-American and star of the team, and later a 10-year veteran of the old ABA and NBA who became a lawyer and is currently a TV basketball analyst — who got only a couple of pairs of the Converse shoes. The shoes, incidentally, came from the school’s athletic department and not from Converse.
These days, schools sell replica jerseys of their star players and the players don’t even get a 1% royalty from those sales. And athletes featured in popular college football and basketball video games would not be compensated for the use of their identities. Imagine Lamar Jackson or Tom Brady allowing their identities to be used in advertising or in a video game without some royalties being paid. I think not.
Another issue is one of fairness and equality with other students on non-athletic scholarships. A non-athlete on a music scholarship may teach music or perform, either as a soloist or as part of an ensemble, for pay, without jeopardizing their scholarship. An English, math, or any other major on an academic scholarship can tutor in their area of expertise, for pay, or publish essays or books, earning royalties, without losing their scholarships. Athletes, however, are prohibited from earning any money for working as instructors at a sports camp or any other venue that uses their unique athletic talents. As an example, an Olympic-caliber swimmer, if on scholarship, can’t teach 4-year-olds to swim without fear of losing their scholarship. Such an activity would be a violation of NCAA regulations.
In the so-called minor sports, many athletes receive only partial scholarships and need to use work-study or other such programs in order to attend. They, too, can be used to promote the school or some product but not for pay or they too can lose whatever aid they receive.
According to reports, the changes in the NCAA rules are to be presented to the body by January 2021. It would be wise to note, however, that the organization will wish to retain its power and will include language such as that included in its recent announcement allowing the practice of remunerating the athletes “in a manner consistent with the collegiate model,” whatever that is.
It is high time that the NCAA’s hierarchy allow student-athletes — its favorite phrase — to earn some of the monies that are now directed only to the schools and their coaches for their use in advertising and the like, and to also earn stipends for using their talents — just as others on scholarships at those same school are now able to do with complete freedom.
Be confident that the NCAA will relinquish as little as possible of its control over the athletics and athletes under their umbrella. The concept of “pure amateurism” effectively ends after high school unless an athlete attends some school in the more obscure Division III or National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (not part of the NCAA).
It’s time the NCAA enters the 20th century, let alone the 21st.
Bill Kennedy writes every other week from Taneytown. You may contact him via email at email@example.com.