ATLANTA (AP) — The NCAA Board of Governors has taken the first step toward allowing athletes to cash in on their fame. The board voted unanimously on Tuesday to clear the way for the amateur athletes to “benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness.”
The vote came during a meeting at Emory University in Atlanta.
In a news release, board chair Michael V. Drake said the board realized that it "must embrace change to provide the best possible experience for college athletes."
The move comes as the nation’s largest governing body for college athletics faces increasing pressure from lawmakers across the country intent on following California’s lead by dismantling compensation prohibitions that currently apply to more than 450,000 NCAA athletes.
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith and Big East Conference Commissioner Val Ackerman, the leaders of the NCAA's name, image and likenesses working group, will present a progress report to the board at Emory University in Atlanta. It will be a key early step in a process that could take months or even years to work its way through the NCAA various layers.
"I don't expect a report saying that we're going to stay exactly like we are. I don't think we're going to get a status quo report," Atlantic 10 Conference Commissioner Bernadette McGlade said last week. She said she expected it to be the first of many steps, "certainly not a final report."
NCAA rules have long barred players from hiring agents and the association has steadfastly refused to allow players to be paid by their schools, with some exceptions. The California law would prevent athletes from losing their scholarships or being kicked off their teams for signing endorsement deals. The measure doesn't take effect until 2023, leaving time for the NCAA to take its own steps even though other states are considering measures that could take effect even earlier.
A possible place for the NCAA to start is allowing athletes to make money from non-athletic business opportunities, which is currently prohibited. McGlade said the NCAA has been approving waivers at a high rate to allow athletes to earn money if they, for example, develop a product or write a book. In a notable recent case, the NCAA provided a waiver to former Notre Dame basketball star Arike Ogunbowale so she could compete on the television show "Dancing With the Stars."
Still, the NCAA would like to draw a line between allowing athletes access to money-making opportunities that have well-defined market value and those where payments could be arbitrary and used in lieu of improper recruiting inducements, a person who has been briefed on the work done by Smith and Ackerman's group told The Associated Press. The person spoke only on condition of anonymity because the working group is not making its work public.
Such a stance would mean prohibiting an athlete from cutting a deal with a local business to appear in a commercial, for example, but letting athletes take advantage of opportunities to monetize their social media followings.
McGlade, in her 12th year as A-10 commissioner after 10 years with the Atlantic Coast Conference, said she is frustrated college sports is facing legislative pressure on an issue that has been hanging over the NCAA for years. Finding a solution that satisfies more than 300 schools competing in Division I is a challenge.
"And I don't think that it's possible to have state-by-state legislation or laws," she said. "But I also believe strongly in that the model should not move so far to the point that there is a 'pay-for-play, employee-employer relationship' with student athletes."