NCAA Board Approves Athlete Compensation for Image, Likeness

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

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The United States' largest governing body for college athletics took the first step Tuesday toward allowing amateur athletes to cash in on their fame, voting unanimously to permit them to "benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness."

The NCAA and its member schools now must figure out how to allow athletes to profit while still maintaining rules regarding amateurism. The body's Board of Governors, meeting at Emory University in Atlanta, directed each of the NCAA's three divisions to create the necessary new rules immediately and have them in place no later than January 2021.

The NCAA "must embrace change to provide the best possible experience for college athletes," the board said in a news release. 

Board chair Michael V. Drake added that such change "must be consistent with the values of college sports and higher education and not turn student-athletes into employees of institutions. 

A group of NCAA administrators has been exploring since May how athletes could be allowed to receive compensation for the use of their names, images and likenesses.

The working group, led by Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith and Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman, presented a status report Tuesday to the university presidents who make up the Board of Governors.

The shift came a month after California passed a law that would make it illegal for NCAA schools to prohibit college athletes from making money on endorsements, autograph signings and social media advertising, among other activities. California SB 206 goes into effect in 2023. More than a dozen states have followed with similar legislation, some of which could be on the books as soon as next year.

"This is another attempt by the NCAA at stalling on this issue," said Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association, an advocacy group. Huma said the association has posted model legislation on its website that it is encouraging "all states" to pass "to ensure their college athletes are afforded economic freedom and equal rights." 

The NCAA has said California's law is unconstitutional, and any states that pass similar legislation could see their athletes and schools being declared ineligible to compete. But the board also said it hopes to reach a resolution with states without going to court.

"We would hope that all who are interested in the future welfare of student-athletes would work with us to get to that point and using reasonable processes to get there," Drake said. 

In addition to pending state laws, North Carolina Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Walker has proposed a national bill that would prohibit the NCAA and its member schools from restricting athletes from selling the rights to their names, images and likenesses to third-party buyers on the open market.

"We're going to continue to communicate with legislators at the state and federal level," NCAA President Mark Emmert said. "That's one of the things that the board is asking of me and my staff and the membership in general, and hopefully we can avoid anything that's a direct conflict with our state legislators."

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