Within the last two weeks, college football players from the B1G, SEC, and PAC-12 conferences have banded together and have publicly posted a series of demands they want to see in place ahead of the potential Fall 2020 season. Student-athletes in the PAC-12 conference go as far as to suggest that should their concerns not be addressed, they are threatening to sit out the entire football season. Issues taking center stage during this public discussion are the health concerns they have about returning to competition, social justice concerns addressing racial inequity prevalent on college campuses at all levels of the academy, (and in the case of the PAC-12 student-athletes are demanding a distribution of 50% of each sport’s total conference revenue evenly distributed amongst the respective sports).
Against this backdrop of student-athlete activism is the recent news that the NCAA has petitioned the Supreme Court to pause on allowing college athletes to receive an expanded number of educational-related benefits. This petition comes after Judge Claudia Wilken’s ruling said that institutions should be allowed to provide an unlimited number of educationally related benefits to college athletes (which can be both monetary and non-monetary equivalents). Although Judge Wilken did provide a brief example, she left much to be desired about how this ruling would be applied across conferences and across institutions. Not to mention that in July (2020) the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on the integrity of college sports and Name, Image, and Likeness.
This recent news clearly demonstrates that whether we like it or not, change is coming to college athletics. At this point, the NCAA has not yet appealed the decision by the Circuit Court in the Alston Case. Their petition to the Supreme Court is to stay Judge Wilken’s ruling (likely until an appeal is made and the court decides whether or not to hear the appeal). Regardless, with N.I.L. currently being debated on Capitol Hill and with college players standing up and making demands of the conferences, this appears to be a pivotal moment in sports that seeks to reshape the entire industry.
Industry traditionalists are concerned about what those changes could mean but I for one am filled with excitement. Change is never easy but does present a world of new possibilities that have never before been considered. The history of college athletics in and of itself has continued to change with each decade and it only seems fitting that this new decade begins with a seismic shift with the traditional model of college athletics. Student-athletes have stood up and said in ‘enough is enough’ and they want certain demands met before considering playing college football this season. Movements generally begin with a few people willing to take a stand and this stand can change the world.
Once the smoke has cleared and the dust settled what will remain is an opportunity in this industry to do things differently than had ever been done before. Name, Image, and Likeness is only the beginning. What might develop is a coalition of student-athletes by sports addressing their own concerns and more opportunities for student-athletes to develop and market their own brands while preparing for life after sports. Maybe this is the beginning of the end of the old system of college athletics but maybe…just maybe this is the start of something truly marvelous and will have us wondering why this wasn’t done before.