NCAA Board of Governors opens door to athletes benefiting from name, image and likeness


Associated Press

ATLANTA — The NCAA’s top policy-making group on Tuesday voted “unanimously to 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,” the association said in a news release.

The release followed a Board of Governors meeting in Atlanta at which the group received a report from a special working group that had been appointed in May to examine the name, image and likeness issue.

The statement about the board action did not provide specifics but said changes to NCAA rules in each of the three divisions could occur immediately, as long as they occur within principles and guidelines that include:

►Assuring student-athletes are treated similarly to non-athlete students unless a compelling reason exists to differentiate.

►Maintaining the priorities of education and the collegiate experience to provide opportunities for student-athlete success.

►Ensuring rules are transparent, focused and enforceable and facilitate fair and balanced competition.

►Making clear the distinction between collegiate and professional opportunities.

►Making clear that compensation for athletics performance or participation is impermissible.

►Reaffirming that student-athletes are students first and not employees of the university.

Speaking in Atlanta immediately after the board meeting, even NCAA President Mark Emmert said that threading those general principles into meaningful rules changes for Division I schools will be challenging.

“In creating a system for allowing students to take advantage of name, image, and likeness,” Emmert said, “one of the biggest concerns the working group has spent a lot of time on — and is going to keep spending time on — is how do you allow liberalization and not have it just become part of the recruiting wars? That’s going to be one of the biggest challenges in coming up with real bylaws.”

The board said the working group will continue to gather feedback through April 2020 and it asked each of the associations’ three divisions to make rules changes no later than January 2021.

The NCAA’s action comes about a month after California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill that will make it easier for college athletes in the state to profit from their own name, image and likeness, beginning in 2023. California was the first state to enact a law, but there is a bill pending in Congress from Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C,) and measures in process in several other states,

“There’s no question the legislative efforts in Congress and various states have been a catalyst to change,” Emmert said. “It’s clear that schools and the presidents are listening and have heard loud and clear that everyone agrees this is an area that needs to be addressed.”

California State Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), who authored the bill there, told USA TODAY Sports she is “encouraged by the vote today, but the devil’s in the details. … We’ll be monitoring.”

In a statement, Newsom said California wants to “ensure the rules ultimately adopted are aligned with the legislation we passed this year.”

The lead time in the law’s effective date resulted from an amendment to the bill that was made out of consideration for the NCAA working group. Still, the NCAA pushed against the legislation, with Board of Governors sending a letter to Newsom in early September that said enactment “would result in (California schools) being unable to compete in NCAA competitions” and would be “unconstitutional.”

Reference to the bill’s legality signaled the NCAA’s potential willingness to sue California under the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, which says that only Congress has the power to regulate commerce among states. However, Emmert said that during Tuesday’s board meeting, “We spent very little time on” legal strategy.

Well before Newsom (D) gave his assent, similar legislative efforts had begun in Congress and in the states of Washington and Colorado. And while the action in California was being finalized, lawmakers in four other states either introduced or announced their intention to introduce, bills similar to California’s. Since then, at least 10 more states have seen at least talk of proposals.

On Tuesday, the Illinois House of Representatives’ Higher Education Committee approved a measure similar to California’s — and also with a 2023 effective date — by a 9-6 margin. The vote puts the bill on the House floor, where it could soon receive a full vote.

Another significant activity occurred last week, when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, endorsed a bi-partisan proposal in his state that would take effect as early as July 2020. Like California, Florida has numerous major-college programs — and law there would put the Southeastern and Atlantic Coast conferences directly alongside the Pac-12 in having to confront the issue.

Florida State Rep. Chip LaMarca (R-Lighthouse Point), who is sponsoring a bill there, said in a statement: “Today was a big win for access to the free market for our student athletes nationwide and in Florida. … We will continue working to make sure the NCAA keeps the promises they have made to our student athletes.”

Emmert again emphasized the need for a national approach.

“We’re going to have to wait and see what transpires with each of these legislatures,” he said. “We believe very deeply in the board …that you have to have a national system if you’re going to have national championships. Doing all these things state by state is at best ineffective and most likely makes it very difficult or impossible.”

Asked whether the NCAA was open to federal legislation, Emmert said: “We’ll have to see where it goes and what happens there. The board talked a good bit about this, but it’s premature at this stage.”