NCAA Opens Door to Student-athletes Making More

Richard Breen

Thursday, October 31st, 2019

A recent NCAA decision could create new opportunities for businesses to promote themselves through college sports – and for college sports itself to change the way it does business.

On Oct. 29, the NCAA Board of Governors voted to allow student-athletes to benefit financially from their name, image and likeness. The board has asked for rules to be in place by January 2021.

Current college coaches already promote businesses around South Carolina, having inked deals to market everything from security systems to sodas to gym memberships.

“They could be tailored for athletes to do those endorsements,” said Dr. Richard Southall, director of the College Sport Research Institute at the University of South Carolina.

He points out that college coaches have also negotiated perks such as radio call-in shows, the use of vehicles and homes, and country club memberships.

“It seems that we can figure that out,” Southall said.

In 2016, Lexington Medical Center debuted a marketing campaign featuring former USC quarterback Connor Shaw, who was then playing in the National Football League. It continues to participate in Gamecock-related sports marketing – this Saturday’s pregame festivities include a “Homecoming Tailgate Party presented by Lexington Medical Center” – but an LMC spokeswoman said they are not sure they would choose to use a current college athlete in a marketing campaign.

The NCAA’s decision follows moves by elected officials in California and Florida toward allowing college athletes to earn money from things such as pubic appearances. The organization has long resisted, holding that payments to players would lead to the professionalization of college athletics.

The controversy accelerated following a 2009 lawsuit by former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon, who sought compensation from the use of his likeness in a video game. Meanwhile, an explosion of televised college sports has helped individual athletic departments generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue each year.

The NCAA board announced that any rules would still “make clear the distinction between collegiate and professional opportunities” and “make clear that compensation for athletics performance or participation is impermissible.” In addition, it said upcoming rules would “reaffirm that student-athletes are students first and not employees of the university,” and “protect the recruiting environment and prohibit inducements to select, remain at, or transfer to a specific institution.”

Meeting those goals could be complicated, according to Southall.

“It’s complicated because we’re trying to hold onto an outdated system,” he said. “The system needs to be fundamentally abolished and a new system put in place.”

A key sticking point for Southall is the desire by the NCAA that athletes not be considered employees. Doing so would open up the possibility of workers’ compensation claims, he said. But he said making athletes university employees would allow them to organize into associations and/or hire agents to negotiate the types of name/image/likeness benefits the NCAA will be trying to create policies for over the next 14 months.

There will be other issues to wrestle with as well.

“This has possible implications for the development office at the university level, or booster clubs,” Southall said.

The hypotheticals that need to be addressed are endless. Will a business donate less money to a school or team when it can spend directly on marketing via a particular athlete? How will athletes of different market value be compensated while complying with federal gender equity laws?

For their part, colleges across South Carolina have adopted a wait-and-see approach.

In Greenville, a Furman University athletics spokesman said the school wouldn’t be issuing a statement due to the fact that with so many details yet to be worked out, the impact on the school is unclear. In Spartanburg, a Wofford College athletics spokesman also told South Carolina CEO that the school would not be issuing a statement.

Clemson University and USC both issued statements.

Clemson Athletic Director Dan Radakovich: “We are encouraged by the vote from the NCAA Board of Governors today affording student-athletes the ability to benefit from their name, image and likeness. We look forward to engaging with the NCAA, Atlantic Coast Conference and others in creating a consistent national framework within the guiding principles set forth by the working group.”

USC Athletic Director Ray Tanner: “President (Robert) Caslen and I talked following the NCAA Board of Governors announcement, and the University of South Carolina looks forward to joining with the Southeastern Conference and NCAA Division I to determine how to implement name, image and likeness benefits for our student-athletes. The University has a track record of offering services and opportunities to its student-athletes. For example, five years ago, Carolina was the first SEC school to endorse multi-year scholarships through our ‘Gamecock Student-Athlete Promise.’ We are anxious to be part of the discussion around shaping future ideas to further enhance the student-athlete experience on our campus.”