The NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) is an organization that supports and looks after the well-being and life-long success of college athletes. It has over one thousand colleges and universities signed up to it, as well as over 100 athletic conferences, and comprises athletic directors, academic support staff, health and safety personnel, faculty athletics representatives, and coaches amongst its ranks, and works to ensure that college athletes are able to succeed in the classroom and on the field, setting them up for success in life whether they go on to become professional athletes or not.
The current situation
Currently, student athletes are unable to cash in on their fame and image, meaning that, unlike professional athletes, they are unable to hire agents and make money from endorsements, social media posts, and the use of their image. The NCAA position is, that as they are amateurs, playing only against other colleges and amateur players, not professionals, the NCAA is best positioned to ensure a fair and level playing field by controlling the name, image and likeness on a national scale, and that the influence from the professional world on the amateur athletic scene could lead to disparities between players.
However, there have been murmurings that this may change. In 2019, the NCAA board voted unanimously to allow amateur athletes to make money from their fame following California legislation that would allow amateur players to hire agents and receive endorsements. The ban, however, has yet to be lifted, and a number of votes due on the matter to pass this proposal have been delayed a number of times.
Are there any benefits to legalising endorsements for amateurs?
The lifting of this ban could bring all sorts of benefits to the players, colleges, and the sports industry as a whole. The NCAA would be able to cash in on increased visibility and promotion of their competitions, bringing in new fans, and having individual players followed through from amateur to professional status.
Proponents of the new law state that it is only fair that players, irrespective of their status as amateurs or professionals, be able to access the same opportunities, and be able to make money from their talents. The limited duration of a sports career (relative to other careers off the field) means that it makes sense to allow players to start making money and developing a brand and presence as early on as possible, as well as encouraging them to remain in school and get a qualification that could help them later on in life.
Additionally, it may lead players from lower socio-economic backgrounds to see sport as a realistic option for them if they are able to monetise it early on, and not be starting to build a brand only once they have finished school, whilst encouraging them to complete a college degree. This new law would also allow players to transfer schools more easily and not have to sit out of competition for a year as per current guidelines. All these steps would offer increased flexibility to players and teams across the competition as a whole.
Sports in the USA is very popular, and a lot of professional athletes come from an amateur/college background. A lot of major sports like the NFL and NBA will scout players from different colleges to help with the transition from amateur to professional. The interest in sports in the US has increased over the last couple of years thanks to the restrictions of sports betting be lifted. Citizens in Illinois, Michigan and New Jersey to name a few are now able to legally bet on a sporting match or event which has led to the sports industry growing in popularity with many eager to watch matches to see if their chosen team or player has won. With the interest in sports increasing and more amateurs wanting a sports-based future, many believe that rewarding them with endorsements is the morally right thing.
What still needs to be agreed?
However, there are a number of issues that still need to be ironed out, which is why there have been delays in ratifying and implementing this proposal:
- Tax implications for those on sports scholarships at colleges; there is talk from one US Senator, Richard Burr of North Carolina, that the value of the scholarship received could be taxed as part of their income.
- The president of the NCAA, Mark Emmert, has called for the vote to be postponed so that the US Justice Department calling for input to ensure that any changes in the rules ensure that it remains compliant with current federal anti-trust laws.
- Greg Sankey, commissioner of the Southeast Conference and a hugely influential figure in college sports also has misgivings about implementing this change whilst there is so much upheaval in Washington due to the change in government, and proposes waiting until the new government is in to ensure the changes stick and are not challenged shortly thereafter. For example, a republican led bill would have exempted the NCAA from anti-trust legislation.
- There are concerns around how to ensure that players are able to compete fairly both on and off the field, and if there will be external pressure for specific players to be chosen.
- There are fears of conflicts of interest amongst players on the same team, or between endorsing parties and individual colleges, which could impact the players’ rights to a fair and open market.
There are however many benefits to players and the sport, which is why this issue has been bubbling in the background for years. Whilst individual states like California and Florida have taken steps (on paper) to allow amateur athletes to make money from their involvement in college sport, it will take a national-led change to be able to implement it across the board.
There are clear benefits to the sport, betting, players, colleges and NCAA in this proposal, but it is clear that the NCAA, as the representative body for all amateur college athletes, needs to ensure that any changes to current rules safeguards all their members, and that all relevant stakeholders are consulted. The delay may be irksome to some, but it is being handled with the best interests of all involved.