Amateurism is dying and the NCAA has lost: A look ahead to inevitable reforms

Name, image, and likeness rights coming to an athletic department near you!

Look at the NCAA, pretending like this is something they want to do and didn’t spend a decade and millions of dollars fighting against across the courts of this country!

Over the last few years, I’ve tried to keep track of the NCAA’s desperate Hail Mary to preserve amateurism by lobbying to congress in Washington. And if you’ve been tracking developments at all, then what I’m about to say won’t surprise you:

The NCAA has lost, and appears to have finally conceded defeat. How do we know the NCAA has lost? Is there any way that the NCAA would make the following proposal if they could find any way to weasel out of it?

Sports Illustrated obtained a copy of the 22-page document . . . the legislation grants athletes the right to use their name, image and likeness (NIL) to:

• Promote private lessons and business activities and operate their own camps and clinics, as long as they do not use school marks.

• Profit from endorsing products through commercials and other ventures, as long as they do not use any school marks or reveal the school in which they attend. They are only allowed to refer to “their involvement in intercollegiate athletics generally,” according to documents.

• Be compensated for autograph sessions, as long as they do not occur during an institution event or competition and no school marks or apparel is used during the sale of the material.

• Solicit funds through crowdfunding, such as GoFundMe, for non-profit or charities, catastrophic events, family hardships and educational experiences, such as internships.

Two days after SI’s reporting the NCAA confirmed everything by releasing the same details themselves. Separately, the NCAA also announced a proposal that would grant all athletes a one transfer without having to sit out a season. Athletes would also be allowed to hire an agent for certain activities. While the NCAA is trying to keep some measure of control over proceedings, this represents a capitulation on nearly everything the NCAA has fought against for more than a decade, granted to college athletes in one fell swoop. Years and years of legal battles, only to give in all at once.

Why the sudden about face? Because that Hail Mary was knocked down. I don’t know what kind of response the NCAA expected to get from congress, but the response they did get was clear. Congress doesn’t like how they do business, and they’re going to do something about it:

A group of U.S. senators plans to introduce in Congress “a college athletes bill of rights” seeking to guarantee NCAA players monetary compensation, long-term healthcare, lifetime educational scholarships and more eligibility freedoms.

So while this proposal is a massive step towards correcting the massive structural inequality of revenue sports, it could get much worse for the NCAA. Among other possibilities, this Bill of Rights may include the right of athletes to collectively negotiate, would allow all transfers to happen without a redshirt season, and mandate athletic department financial transparency.

The NCAA undoubtedly hopes that this reform package will take the heat off and discourage congress from taking any further regulatory action. I’m not sure how big a priority this is for Cory Booker and his fellow senators, but if he keeps pushing then Booker will quickly surpass Trent Edwards and TC Ostrander as my favorite Stanford football player of all time.

Maybe the NCAA was also encouraged to give up the ghost because they are currently dealing with day after day of embarrassing headlines caused by member institutions insisting on playing football in a pandemic and experiencing exactly what everybody predicted would happen.

As this is just proposed legislation, there’s still a ways to go before whatever the final version is gets voted on and (presumably) enacted. But everything I’ve read indicates that while the final details will get hammered out over the next few months, this legislation will be in place for the 2021-22 academic calendar and onwards.

It’s been a long, long battle. Ed O’Bannon filed his lawsuit more than 11 years ago! It took active involvement from politicians at the state and federal level. But now it’s going to happen. How it will impact Olympic sports, revenue sports, and Cal generally, I can only speculate. But college sports will become marginally less unequal, marginally more fair, and that counts as a good day.