A new era: NCAA approves change to allow name, image and likeness payments for college athletes

It's a new era in college athletics.

After years of opposition, the NCAA will allow its athletes to earn income via the use of their name, image and likeness. On Monday, the NCAA’s Division I Council formally recommended to suspend the association’s long-standing amateurism rules related to athletes earning from opportunities like endorsements and autograph signings.

The Division I Board of Directors met Wednesday and voted to approve the change, doing so just a day before an array of state NIL laws are slated to go into effect on July 1. The policy will officially go into effect on Thursday for Divisions I, II and III.

With a number of states putting their own NIL laws on the books for July 1, the NCAA hoped the federal government would step in and institute national standards before then so rules did not differ on a state-to-state basis. That has not come to fruition, so the NCAA has put in place this “interim” measure “until federal legislation or new NCAA rules are adopted.”

“This is an important day for college athletes since they all are now able to take advantage of name, image and likeness opportunities,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said. "With the variety of state laws adopted across the country, we will continue to work with Congress to develop a solution that will provide clarity on a national level. The current environment — both legal and legislative — prevents us from providing a more permanent solution and the level of detail student-athletes deserve.”

The move clears the way for athletes across the country to earn income from their own brands while leaving in place the NCAA’s “commitment to avoid pay-for-play and improper inducements tied to choosing to attend a particular school.”

Here’s how it would work, per the NCAA:

College athletes can engage in NIL activities that are consistent with the law of the state where the school is located. Colleges and universities are responsible for determining whether those activities are consistent with state law.

College athletes who attend a school in a state without an NIL law can engage in this type of activity without violating NCAA rules related to name, image and likeness.

College athletes can use a professional services provider for NIL activities.

College athletes should report NIL activities consistent with state law or school and conference requirements to their school.

Additionally, the NCAA said Monday that individual schools and conferences are permitted to adopt their own NIL policies.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., left, greets NCAA President Mark Emmert, as the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee holds a hearing on student athlete compensation and federal legislative proposals to enable athletes participating in collegiate sports to monetize their name, image, and likeness, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, June 9, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., left, greets NCAA President Mark Emmert, as the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee holds a hearing on student athlete compensation. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

NCAA avoided NIL changes until it had to

For decades, the NCAA used its tax-exempt status and the concept of “amateurism” to defend its rules that prohibited college athletes from being compensated in any way beyond their scholarships and cost-of-attendance. The NCAA's tune began to change, however, when individual states began drafting their own NIL legislation that would allow college athletes in their states to pursue endorsement deals.

The first and most notable came in 2019 out of the state of California. It was a bill the NCAA once deemed “unconstitutional.” But when the California bill passed in September 2019 and other states followed suit, the NCAA’s Board of Governors said (in October 2019) it would “immediately consider updates” regarding name and image rights.

Nearly two years later, none of the proposed changes have come to fruition, even after in April 2020 the NCAA Board of Governors formally expressed support for NIL rule changes.

Instead, the NCAA passed the buck to the federal government. Predictably, Congress was unable to come to a consensus on the best approach toward implementing a federal NIL standard.

Instead, a handful of states will institute new laws on July 1. Meanwhile, governors in other states are signing orders to allow college athletes to earn endorsement and sponsorship money as well. Some schools and coaches are feeling left in the dark with how this will all transpire.

On the other hand, plenty of schools across the country have announced plans for their athletes to capitalize on NIL deals. The athletes are ready to roll, too. On Monday, Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz unveiled his own trademark.

On Wednesday afternoon, Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon tweeted about a deal he made with a local fireworks store.

Welcome to a new era of college athletics.

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