NCAA takes step toward allowing student-athletes to benefit from name, image, likeness

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The devil is in the details.

On Tuesday afternoon, the NCAA sent out a release announcing that the Board of Governors had voted to “start the process to enhance name, image and likeness opportunities,” adding that they will “permit students participating in athletics the opportunity to benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.”

“Enhance.”

“Benefit.”

“In a manner consistent with the collegiate model.”

The NCAA did not decide that student-athletes are now allowed to profit off of their NIL rights today. What they did was word a press release in way that made it sound better than simply saying that they’ve decided that the upcoming legislation being pushed through in more than a dozen states has forced their hand, and they need to figure out what they’re going to do as a result.

Like I said, the devil is in the details.

And about halfway through the NCAA’s release is the detail that matters the most. The Board of Governors wrote that the modernization of the NCAA rule book must occur within eight specific guidelines, and those guidelines make it clear that the NCAA has no interest in allowing the floodgates to open. These are the four that you really need to pay attention to:

  • Make clear the distinction between collegiate and professional opportunities.
  • Make clear that compensation for athletics performance or participation is impermissible.
  • Reaffirm that student-athletes are students first and not employees of the university.
  • Protect the recruiting environment and prohibit inducements to select, remain at, or transfer to a specific institution.

In other words, the NCAA does not want the ways that student-athletes would actually be able to profit off of their name, image and likeness to be allowed.

Which is so dumb.

Let’s, for a second, just assume that we all agree allowing the workers in a billion-dollar industry access to something as simple as their NIL rights is the right thing to do.

How would any of this be possible to enforce?

Let’s say that you are a recruit and decided to enroll at Kansas over Kentucky and Duke. When you arrive in Lawrence, the owner of a car dealership offers you $100,000 to use your image on a billboard on I-70 advertising his business. What will the NCAA do? You’d have to be naïve to believe that a deal like that is made after the recruiting process is over, but how can they prove what made a recruit pick a certain school?

And in what world does anyone separate money from major life decisions, regardless of what you do?

Every athlete is going to have a public Venmo account if this rule change is enacted. If that player hits a game-winning shot in the first round of the NCAA tournament and a bunch of drunk fans, alums and winning bettors all decide to send the kind $10, will he be ruled ineligible because “compensation for athletics performance is impermissible”?

I could continue to poke holes in this, but I have things I need to do today.

So let’s bottom line it, shall we?

It is a good sign that the NCAA has released that their backs are against the wall here. It’s a good thing that student-athletes will be able to profit off of their NIL rights in some way at some point in the relatively near future.

But the NCAA has no idea what they’re going to do or how they’re going to do it, and their goal seems to be eliminating money from any and all decision-making when money is precisely the reason why most humans make most decisions.

So until we get specifics on how this will work, maybe chill with the “NCAA says athletes can profit off name, likeness” headlines, yeah?