The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) made a groundbreaking decision last week that sent shock waves across the nation. In a unanimous decision, the NCAA has directed all three divisions to allow student-athletes to receive compensation for the use of their image, name, and likeness by 2021. This decision was determined based on recommendations from the NCAA Board of Governors Federal and State Legislation Working Group. While this decision has been a long time coming, it’s also sparked controversy.
California’s Fair Pay to Play Act
In September, California became the first state to pass a federal bill allowing student-athletes to receive paid endorsement deals. Despite the NCAA calling this unconstitutional, Governor Gavin Newsom believes this is a step in the right direction. “I have deep reverence, deep respect for the NCAA and college athletics….I just think the system has been perverted, and this is fundamentally about rebalancing things. It’s about equity, it’s about fairness, and it’s about time,” he told the Los Angeles Times. The signing of this bill put the NCAA under pressure to do the right thing. While that law won’t go into effect until summer of 2021 (debateable as to if it will be July or August), it opens the door to discussion and negotiation.
The rising pressure
The NCAA has long been under speculation for generating billions in revenue while not sharing any of those funds with the student-athletes who take to the court or pitch for games. They have consistently been in the hot seat, suggesting they would take action and put the organization's practices first—one of those actions being converting a portion of the revenue into scholarships. While NCAA President Mark Emmert told NPR, “The board's action today creates a path to enhance opportunities for student-athletes while ensuring they compete against students and not professionals,” many believe his statement is vague, open-ended, and empty.
Putting it into perspective
According to Investopedia, in 2019, March Madness raked in $933 million in revenue from media rights fees, ticket sales, corporate sponsorships, and television ads surrounding the three-week tournament. Additionally, in 2016, the University of Louisville’s basketball program made $41.7 million in profits, while Duke University made $31.3 million. The student-athletes? They earned $0.00. Former Duke University basketball player Zion Williamson was the first-round first pick in the 2019 NBA draft. He was one of the most marketable college basketball players in the country and one of the most anticipated future pros since Lebron James. He rose to stardom at Duke and made the consistently sold-out Cameron Indoor Stadium his playground. The highly anticipated annual University of North Carolina versus Duke basketball game surpassed $3,200 for tickets in 2019. While Williamson spiked interest and attention across the nation for sports fans, he didn’t earn a single penny for his name, image, or likeness.
Opportunity on the horizon
To sum it up, student-athletes now have a window of opportunity to be compensated for their talent and dedication. Elite college athletes like Zion Williamson could pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for their talent because of this latest decision. And student-athletes who don’t have as high a profile could still benefit from local deals that would make living on a budget for college students a little more livable. The bottom line: student-athletes dedicate years of their lives training, practicing, and analyzing film to get better. For the NCAA and universities to use athletes for promotional entities, and for those students not benefiting from that at all, the future is now.
Whether student-athletes should be paid or not has been a long-running debate among colleges and athletic organizations for some time now. The fact that the NCAA has arrived at the decision to pay student athletes for the use of their likeness is a huge shift in college athletics—one that is still receiving push back. If you’re a student-athlete, make sure to keep up-to-date on the situation as it develops, because although the NCAA has come to this decision, it doesn’t mean their timeline will play out as planned if those that oppose the change have anything to say about it.