NCAA settlement: Former Lobo Kendall Spencer sees unsettled college sports landscape

May 25—Nobody likes hearing someone say "I told you so," even if that someone did.

Kendall Spencer doesn't like saying it. But he did.

Almost three years ago, after a court decision opened the Pandora's Box that is Name, Image and Likeness in college athletics, Spencer voiced concerns.

Spencer, a former University of New Mexico track and field All-American and NCAA indoor long-jump champion, was not anti-NIL then and is not anti-NIL now.

But in an August 2021 interview with the Journal, speaking as a member of several NCAA and NCAA-related committees, he worried about the too-much, too-soon factor and the chaos that might ensue.

"The cat's out of the bag, so there's no pulling back," he said at the time. "... It's not that I think it's a bad idea. It's more that I think it's a bad idea to do right now."

How does one define "right now?" It was NCAA vs. Alston, decided in June 2021, that opened the NIL floodgates.

Then, on Thursday, it was announced that the NCAA has opted to settle several NIL-related lawsuits (pending a judge's approval) for a total of $2.8 billion. Flowing out of that settlement, if approved, direct payments from NCAA-member schools (for now, only schools in the five so-called power conferences are on board) to student-athletes are likely to begin by 2025. Schools can choose to opt in or opt out.

Between Alston and now, that's almost three years. Yet, in the history of intercollegiate sports, that's the blink of an eye.

"I understand it's not overnight in terms of day in, day out," Spencer, 32, said on Saturday in an interview with the Journal. "But when it comes to policy, sports policy and regulatory systems, this is overnight."

This head-spinning turn of events, Spencer said, has essentially destroyed the amateur model of college athletics under which he competed and thrived at UNM (2010-14) and which paved the way for a career in law. A 2020 graduate of the Georgetown Law School, he works in Boston for the prestigious firm Ropes & Gray LLP.

That amateur model never lost viability, in Spencer's view, especially after he assisted in the process that introduced full cost of attendance provisions in 2015.

But, he said on Saturday, the amateur model simply was no longer what society wanted.

And in reaction to what is and can be, not to what used to be and is no longer, his plan is — as in the past — to be part of the solution.

"My hope with all of this is ... to be back at the table at the national (NCAA) office, continuing to design policies that help make this work," Spencer said. '"... OK, cool, we're here now. Let me help try to figure out how we can navigate this best."

Spencer is by no means all gloom-and-doom regarding Thursday's news. In an interview published Friday on, he said he was excited as an advocate for student-athletes by the opportunities the settlement might afford them.

Still, that navigation promises to be one traversed through whitewater.

How does the NCAA, its member conferences and its member schools deal with a landscape in which college athletes might command more money than many of their professional counterparts? What of the athletes of lesser profile and/or those who participate in non-revenue-producing sports, who don't figure to get the big bucks? What of those non-revenue sports themselves? What of gender equity, Title IX?

Clearly, neither Spencer nor anyone else has all the answers right now.

"I hope we can find a way to prioritize and use this as an opportunity to increase the academic and educational value of the student-athlete experience," he said, "so that this doesn't become an overly professional model."

Over its 116 years of existence, the NCAA often has redrafted its constitution to meet changing times. Spencer has seen that process up close, been part of it, while serving on the NCAA Constitution Committee.

Now, he said, in his experience, "I think this will be the third or fourth iteration of a governance restructuring."

This one, likely, will be the most drastic yet — not just for the NCAA but also for the membership.

"Schools are going to have to have to contemplate," Spencer said, "OK, what policies do we need to have in place to protect ourselves?"

At the same time, he said, student-athletes will be looking for ways to protect their interests.

"What that does to the relationship between the student-athletes and the schools," he said, "is going to be significant."

The NCAA's continuing role in all of this, he said, is an open question going forward.

If Thursday's news marked the end of amateurism, it also might have marked the end of the NCAA as we knew it.

Specifically, in terms of enforcement, what constitutes an impermissible benefit? Anything? Nothing?

Spencer, long a steadfast believer in the NCAA and its core mission, a man optimistic by choice, admits he isn't sure.

"They have to decide," Spencer said, "what they're going to do as it relates to enforcement and regulating what the schools can and cannot do.

"I think they're going to take a huge step back."