Fair Pay to Play: Economic Freedom and the “Collegiate Model”

By Jennifer L. Colagiovanni posted 11-25-2019 09:09


This fall, the state of California made history when it passed the Fair Pay to Play Act, which permits athletes to be paid for the use of their name, image, and likeness and allows them to sign endorsement deals. While the law doesn’t take effect until 2023, the reverberations have been felt across the country. More than 10 other states have proposed similar legislation, and Michigan recently joined that list. A national bill was also introduced this past spring. All of which have shaken up the NCAA and what many have described as its antiquated rules.

In the wake of the California law (though the connection has not been expressly acknowledged), the NCAA Board of Governors recently voted to permit college athletes to benefit from the use of their name, image, and likeness and directed its three divisions to create the necessary new rules by January 2021. But what does this mean, and what will this look like?

Well, before looking forward, it helps to look back. The NCAA’s current rules are primarily aimed at football and men’s basketball, the organization’s largest revenue-generating sports, but they apply uniformly to all college sports. In short, the current rules prohibit collegiate athletes from accepting remuneration for or simply permitting the use of their name, image, or likeness to promote or endorse a product or service. College athletes are permitted to earn money from part-time jobs (though there is little time left after practice, games, and coursework), as long as it does not include “remuneration for value that the student-athlete may have for the employer because of publicity, reputation, fame or personal following” that he or she has obtained because of athletic ability. And the rigidity of the NCAA rules has yielded a number of unfortunate outcomes over the years—like when former Indiana Hoosier point guard Steve Alford was suspended for a game in 1985 after posing for a sorority charity calendar, despite not receiving any compensation. Or when a backup kicker from Central Florida University was determined ineligible in 2017 after posting YouTube videos about his life as a student athlete and earning money from the content. Or when a business student and University of Utah wide receiver was told he could not accept a sales internship because it was deemed to have violated the policy on athletes prospering from the commercial use of their name, image, or likeness.

That said, concerns over recruiting advantages from lucrative endorsement deals, large market schools, and booster payments are real. So how will the NCAA modify its rules to permit college athletes to benefit from the use of their name, image, and likeness, while, as they put it, also being consistent with the “collegiate model”? Will the revised rules go far enough, or will they fall short of the state and federal legislative efforts in the works? Like a college sports fan, I’ll be watching what comes next from the edge of my seat.