In a surprise move, the NCAA says it intends to allow college athletes to earn compensation — but it says it's only starting to work out the details of how that would take place. The organization's board of governors said Tuesday that it had voted unanimously to permit student-athletes to benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness.
"We must embrace change to provide the best possible experience for college athletes," said Michael Drake, the NCAA board chair who is also president of Ohio State University. In a statement, Drake stressed the need for "additional flexibility" in the NCAA's approach.
Drake added, "This modernization for the future is a natural extension of the numerous steps NCAA members have taken in recent years to improve support for student-athletes, including full cost of attendance and guaranteed scholarships."
The timeline for implementing the changes was not immediately clear in the NCAA's statement.
The NCAA, the national governing body for collegiate athletics, said its decision followed input over the past few months from "current and former student-athletes, coaches, presidents, faculty and commissioners across all three divisions."
Notably, the decision follows California's adoption of a law that bans schools in the state from preventing student-athletes from accepting compensation from advertisers and allows them to hire agents. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the legislation late last month, calling it the "beginning of a national movement."
Indeed, it did spark a trend. Politicians in Illinois, New York, Florida and other states have introduced bills allowing endorsement deals for college athletes. And days after the California bill was signed, national politicians signaled they would push for something similar in Congress.
Amid this groundswell of political support for paying college athletes, the NCAA has quickly eased its public resistance to the idea. After initially pushing back hard on California's measure, the NCAA has recently been taking a more conciliatory tone, suggesting it would "move forward with ongoing efforts to make adjustments" to the organization's practices.
The NCAA has reported annual revenues topping $1 billion, largely on the strength of TV rights and marketing fees connected with its most prominent sports and events, such as the highly lucrative Division 1 men's basketball tournament.
And though the organization long argued that it was converting those revenues into scholarships and other opportunities for students, that line had lately attracted prominent skeptics — such as NFL cornerback Richard Sherman and NBA superstar LeBron James, who hosted Newsom's signing ceremony on his sports programming company la st month.
"As a national governing body, the NCAA is uniquely positioned to modify its rules to ensure fairness and a level playing field for student-athletes," organization President Mark Emmert said in a statement Tuesday. "The board's action today creates a path to enhance opportunities for student-athletes while ensuring they compete against students and not professionals."
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The NCAA for decades has banned college athletes from profiting off their play. That is about to change because today the organization's board of governors voted unanimously to allow student athletes to benefit from some endorsement deals. For more on this surprise reversal, NPR's Colin Dwyer joins me.
COLIN DWYER, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.
KELLY: So what exactly is happening here?
DWYER: Well, as you mentioned, the NCAA's governing board emerged from its regular meeting today with a pretty big announcement in hand. They were saying that they are going to permit college athletes to make money off the use of their name or likeness. And it should be noted that this does not mean that athletes are going to be put on a college payroll or something like that, but the NCAA is opening the door to some athletes to sign some endorsement deals outside of their institutions and generally profit from their fame on the playing field.
For now they're leaving those details to the folks running the NCAA's three major divisions. The Board of Governors is directing them to consider changing their policies - what they're describing as a modernization - without actually specifying precisely what those changes ought to be. So things are still pretty hazy, and there are still a lot of questions yet to be answered about what this looks like, including what kind of timeline we're talking about for its implementation. But what is clear is that this is a pretty major reversal, and because of that, a landmark move for the NCAA.
KELLY: When you say landmark, why? Just because the NCAA had opposed this for so long?
DWYER: Yeah, and opposed it so adamantly as well. As recent as a month ago, the NCAA Board of Governors - remember, that's the exact same group that came out with its announcement today - they came out with a statement last month saying that allowing these kinds of payments to college athletes would actually gravely undermine the idea of a fair playing field.
And also, in another very basic sense, it's just about money. The NCAA makes revenues on the order of more than $1 billion a year. That's a lot of money, and it's also just the tip of the iceberg. The schools are making money off these events. The TV networks are. So are coaches and administrators. Now, the NCAA has long said that that money trickles down to athletes in the form of scholarships and other educational opportunities, but critics also have answered that assertion by just saying that it's just not enough.
KELLY: So why are they doing this now, Colin?
DWYER: Well, you can kind of trace it back to California. Last month the state lawmakers there passed a law effectively doing just this - enabling student athletes in the state to get endorsement deals and to also sign their own agents. And they also, it should be noted, did so again over the NCAA's vehement objections, but other states also took note. Lawmakers in states such as Illinois, New York and Florida have introduced similar measures to California, and that's kind of leading to the NCAA's nightmare scenario here - the idea that there could be this kind of patchwork of laws in different states that officials would have to navigate differently and that there would also be this kind of competitive imbalance between schools and states where compensation is allowed versus those where it isn't.
So in a way, their hand was kind of forced here, and if you couple that with a kind of rising tide of criticism from professional athletes like LeBron James and others, there was kind of a critical mass of people pushing for this. So in that sense, the decision kind of became pretty easy for the NCAA.
KELLY: And real quick, how's this going to play with college athletes?
DWYER: I imagine that they're going to like it quite a bit.
KELLY: Yeah, hard to turn down a little paycheck there.
NPR's Colin Dwyer, thanks.
DWYER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.