NCAA Decides Athletes Can Cash In on Name, Image, Likeness

NCAA Decides Athletes Can Cash In on Name, Image, Likeness
portrait of Dean Golembeski
By Dean Golembeski

Published on July 1, 2021

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In a major break from tradition, the NCAA has decided that athletes at all its member colleges and universities will be able to cash in on their names, images, and likeness — or NIL — beginning July 1.

On June 30, the governing boards for all three NCAA divisions approved what they termed "a uniform interim policy" that suspends previous rules regarding endorsements for all incoming and current student-athletes in all sports.

"This is an important day for college athletes since they all are now able to take advantage of name, image, and likeness opportunities," NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement.

"With the variety of state laws adopted across the country, we will continue to work with Congress to develop a solution that will provide clarity on a national level. The current environment — both legal and legislative — prevents us from providing a more permanent solution and the level of detail student-athletes deserve," he added.

NCAA Decision Comes Hours Before New State Laws Take Effect

The decision announced by the NCAA came one day before laws in more than a dozen states were set to take effect. These laws provide the same standards as the new NCAA policy.

The new policy will allow athletes to make endorsement deals, cash in on social media, and get paid for such things as making personal appearances and signing autographs.

However, while allowing student-athletes to get paid for their name, image, and likeness, the NCAA was clear that the new rule does not allow pay-for-play. It also continues to forbid improper inducements intended to attract students to a particular school.

"The new policy preserves the fact college sports are not pay-for-play," said Division II Presidents Council chair Sandra Jordan, who is chancellor at the University of South Carolina Aiken. "It also reinforces key principles of fairness and integrity across the NCAA and maintains rules prohibiting improper recruiting inducements. It's important any new rules maintain these principles."

NCAA Changes Come After Years of Legal Wrangling

The NCAA's decision follows a series of events favoring NIL that began more than a decade ago. There were numerous antitrust suits, starting in 2009, that led to a unanimous Supreme Court ruling against the NCAA on June 21. State legislative action that began in California in 2019, as well as a Florida law that established July 1 as the effective date for NIL laws, have also pressured the NCAA.

The NCAA had planned to vote on NIL rules in January, but tabled the matter when the Supreme Court decided in December to hear the case. The Justice Department also raised concerns about the NCAA's plans. Meanwhile, Congress has also taken interest in the issue, with the introduction of several bills that expired as the 2020 Congressional session ended.

Division III Presidents Council chair Fayneese Miller, president at Hamline University, said the NCAA will continue to work with Congress to develop a national law that will help colleges and universities — as well as student-athletes and their families — better navigate the name, image, and likeness landscape.

"The new interim policy provides college athletes and their families some sense of clarity around name, image, and likeness, but we are committed to doing more," Miller said. "We need to continue working with Congress for a more permanent solution."

Athletes Must Navigate NCAA Policy and State Laws

The temporary policy will remain in place until federal legislation or new NCAA rules are adopted. In the meantime, schools and conferences may choose to adopt their own additional policies.

The NCAA is also providing general guidance to college athletes, recruits, their families, and member schools that states:

Not every athlete will be able to strike it rich or make money off their fame, although many have begun testing the waters.

For example, Jordan Bohannon, an Iowa University men's basketball player, has posted mockups of T-shirts he plans to sell. Graham Mertz, the starting quarterback for the University of Wisconsin football team, released his personal logo on Twitter. And Max Borghi, a running back at Washington State University, also used Twitter to announce his plans.

Meanwhile, Paige Bueckers, a star basketball player at the University of Connecticut with more than 800,000 followers on Instagram, has not announced any plans. A UConn spokeswoman said in an email to BestColleges that the player is still educating herself about NIL before making a decision. The future for many other collegiate stars also remains to be determined.

Feature Image: Jamie Schwaberow / Contributor / NCAA Photos / Getty Images

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