On Wednesday, April 29th, 2020, the NCAA’s NIL (name, image, and likeness) working group announced proposed changes that would allow its collegiate student-athletes to benefit from the use of their own name, image, and likeness from sponsorship agreements. The proposed changes announced seem to be tip of the iceberg when it comes to the impending sweeping reform coming to college athletics. This announcement, however, has drawn widespread criticism from several members of the U.S. Congress including U.S. Representative Donna Shalala; U.S. Senator Cory Booker; and U.S. Senator Chris Murphy because as Representative Shalala explained in her comments, this seems like a “PR document” designed to “entice the press and appease the public.”
The central question for student-athletes (both current and prospective) and parents is: What does all this really mean? The truth of the matter is that neither Congress, the NCAA Board of Governors, nor the College Coaches really know yet. There are different laws and policies governing all 50 states and the actual status of the NIL conversation remains uncertain. What is certain, however, is that some sort of change is on the horizon for college athletics.
One of the challenges facing the NIL conversation is that (at present) multiple states have legislation (either already passed or destined for a vote) allowing student-athletes in their states to benefit/profit off their own NIL. Unfortunately, the legislation in these states have similarities and differences that could make it difficult for anyone to keep track of and some of the legislation goes into effect January 2021. This means there are only a few months to hammer out the details of what is and is not permissible for the student-athletes and have the U.S. Congress agree to it in order for the NCAA to continue to govern intercollegiate athletics.
Regardless of all the ambiguity, a few things seem clear and are important to note:
- Student-athletes will be able to benefit from their Name, Image, and Likeness.
- Student-athletes will be responsible for adhering to the agreements signed with sponsors.
- Institutions will have minimal control over how a student-athlete chooses to use their Name, Image, Likeness. However, should a student-athlete get into a dispute with a sponsor, the institution more than likely will not get involved to help solve that dispute.
- Parents and student-athletes will have to recognize the possible tax implications.
- Not every student-athlete will have the same market value. This may be a bigger concern for female and Olympic sports.
- Parents and student-athletes may have to be savvier when dealing with agents and at present, it is unclear if the NCAA will get involved at any level to vet the agents.
Outside of those 6 notes, the other details of any possible widespread NIL legislation are unknown at this present time. The only other thing we know for certain is that change is coming. On top of the NIL is the concern if/when college sport (and indeed sports as a whole) will return and what that will look like. Like many industries, college athletics is in the midst of trying to manage several key disruptions that could upend the entire industry from this point forward.
The only thing that makes sense to do at this point is to watch the global and national landscape in order to prepare for the change coming. College athletics is being forced to be adaptable and those successful current and future industry leaders will need to see these challenges as an opportunity to take the industry to never before seen heights. These challenges are exciting and showcase who can and cannot navigate the future of collegiate athletics.