The hottest off-the-field issue in college sports – whether athletes should be able to accept money for endorsements – has been decided in Atlanta on Tuesday.
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The NCAA's top governing body, the Board of Governors, met at Emory University to hear a report from a committee examining the issue, which recently has drawn sharply increased interest from state and federal lawmakers.
In an agreement, the NCAA voted unanimously to permit students participating in athletics the opportunity to benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.
"We must embrace change to provide the best possible experience for college athletes," said Michael V. Drake, chair of the NCAA Board of Governors and president of Ohio State University. "Additional flexibility in this area can and must continue to support college sports as a part of higher education. 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 meeting comes against this backdrop: California recently passed a law, effective in 2023, that will make it illegal for colleges in that state to penalize athletes for accepting money for use of their names, images or likenesses. And at latest count, legislators in about 20 other states, including Georgia, as well as two members of Congress, have proposed or suggested similar legislation.
"I've been at this a long time," Duke athletic director Kevin White said in Atlanta on Monday, "but I tell you: I don't ever remember a more complicated issue than this one facing college athletics."
The issue, which has simmered for years, has taken on enough urgency of late that the status quo no longer appears to be a viable option.
"Can we get to a place that is reasonable and fair? I hope so," said White, in Atlanta for a separate set of meetings as chairman of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee. "But I do not think the current system, as it exists, is going to be the way we can operate in the future. I think there is enough sentiment that something needs to change that something will change.
"So operating the way we currently operate is a non-starter, and then the free-market system, I think, kills the collegiate model forever."
Stressing the difficulty of finding a solution that works for 1,100 NCAA schools, including 353 in Division I, White continued: "So you've got to get a place in a midpoint that you can live with and that can be operationalized. And I worry about finding that place. We've got some really intelligent people in an NCAA working group that are trying to take us to that place, but there is quite a bit of work yet to be done."
That working group, co-chaired by Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith and Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman, will present a report Tuesday to the Board of Governors. What happens from there – i.e., whether the NCAA eventually implements rule changes that satisfy legislators before new state and federal laws take effect – very much remains to be seen.