NCAA Basketball: Endorsement income is unchartered, but appropriate

Division I athletics’ governing body has finally gotten with the program as it pertains to NCAA basketball players and endorsement income.

For years and years, student-athletes in NCAA basketball and other sports have served as the primary conduit in lining the pockets of the NCAA itself, its member colleges and universities, their athletic directors, head coaches and team personnel, as well as television networks and advertisers.

Particularly in football and basketball, collegiate athletics are a big business – to the tune of billions of dollars. And, up until now, save for scholarships and other stipends, the actual players haven’t received a dime, despite the boatloads of cash that others have “earned” by taking advantage of these student-athletes.

Well, the times they are a-changin’, as Bob Dylan famously once said.

In a historic move announced on Wednesday (and one that absolutely should have transpired long ago), the NCAA’s board of governors is taking unprecedented steps to enable student-athletes to get compensated for their name, image and likeness.

The board, naturally, is putting a lot of restrictions in place, some of which are questionable, but the key here is that the NCAA’s highest governing body will let players receive income for third-party endorsements both related to, and separate from, athletics.

Additionally, the board goes on to say that it supports money earned from other opportunities for student-athletes, like social media, businesses they have launched, and personal appearances.

Per its press release, the board’s recommendations will head to the rules-making structure in each of the NCAA’s three divisions. The divisions are anticipated to adopt these new rules by January to go into effect at the beginning of the 2021-22 academic year.

However, as several commentators thoughtfully pointed out, NCAA officials still have to figure out how to implement an array of changes within their three divisions, and some of the details remain fuzzy. That could potentially complicate things as far as the stated timeline for the new rules to get implemented.

Regardless, Wednesday’s announcement is a step in the right direction, and it’s progress, without a doubt. It’s a shame that the NCAA, in essence, only appeared to get serious about this debate because of forward-thinking states, such as California.

These states recently passed bills into law that would make it illegal for NCAA-member schools to prohibit student-athletes from earning income via their name, image and likeness.

That the NCAA is seemingly budging on the issue, just because it had no other choice, is kind of pathetic. But the only thing that really matters is players having a basic fundamental right to generate money in a free-market economy.

If administrators, coaches and others can bring in the big bucks, the young men and women who suit up for them deserve that ability, too.

The NCAA’s recommendations are far from perfect, but that’s no shocker. For example, the NCAA is putting out there that perhaps student-athletes shouldn’t promote alcohol-related products and companies, or get involved with third-party businesses like athletic-shoe and apparel companies.

A free-market economy is simply that, folks. It’s truly unbelievable that the NCAA may want to restrict players when it comes to shoe and apparel makers, yet these companies pay major colleges and universities millions upon millions of dollars in the form of partnership agreements. Oh, the irony.

The NCAA board is requiring guardrails – a fun buzzword! – around name, image and likeness activities. Among these guardrails are that nothing involved with name, image and likeness is considered pay for play; there is no individual school or conference involvement, including the use of logos and trademarks; there is no use of name, image and likeness for recruiting by schools or boosters; and there is regulation of agents and advisors.

From my perspective, the NCAA is fairly naïve if it thinks that name, image and likeness opportunities won’t factor into recruiting, especially in football and basketball. It’s merely the way that these massive-income-earning sports operate.

If a star football or basketball player lands a six-figure commercial, could that create animosity among his or her teammates? Sure. And the key difference with the pros is that said teammates in the professional ranks might earn a lot less money than the stars, but they do get paid a salary. The same doesn’t apply in college.

So, alas, not everyone is going to feel elated about the name, image and likeness options. As I noted earlier, it’s not a perfect science. But in basketball, for example, the ability to earn endorsement revenue could sway some elite prospects to compete at the collegiate level, rather than jump ship to the NBA G League’s promising new program.

The NCAA has to answer a ton of questions on its name, image and likeness proposal. At the very least, though, this often-criticized group is finally getting into the game.

Ridiculously late, yes. But better late than never.