Sport Opinion: Change coming to NCAA, but who knows how and when?
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ATLANTA — It’s not hard to create a headline, and the NCAA did that Tuesday. The broad news coming out of the NCAA’s Board of Governors meeting here —— sounded like audacious progress.
In the broadest sense possible, it’s true. Now that politicians have taken an interest in forcing the NCAA to change its antiquated amateurism rules, the rules are going to change.
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But here’s what the NCAA’s announcement didn't say: It's going to be complicated. It’s going to be difficult to implement and regulate. And at the end of the day, it probably won’t make everyone happy.
If you think that Tuesday’s announcement means the NCAA is going to allow college athletes to earn whatever they can get from wherever they can get it without any oversight or interference, that’s just not the way this is going to go down. The NCAA understands the need to evolve, but it’s very clear in talking to NCAA president Mark Emmert and others who have been working on this issue that they are not going to throw blow up their model so that a blue-chip quarterback recruit who might want to play for Alabama closes the deal by getting $200,000 to endorse a booster’s local business.
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“Everybody that’s been involved in this conversation is really concerned about what an unregulated third party endorsement model could mean and there’s very little support for that,” Emmert said. “So the discussions have been about how you create a regulatory framework for how you can allow some portion of that but not have it become just another form of a recruiting model.”
Ultimately, the NCAA is going to try to thread a really small needle: Allow college athletes to make money based on their inherent popularity while preventing a free-for-all where recruiting is done by the highest bidder.
“It’s one of the biggest elephants in the room,” said Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith, who is co-chairman of the working group along with Big East commissioner Val Ackerman that will spend the next several months drilling down on exactly how to do it.
That doesn’t mean the NCAA is going to sit on its hands do nothing. Given the legislative pressures on the NCAA at the state and federal level, that’s not really an option anymore. But it also doesn’t mean the NCAA is going to grant name, image and likeness rights without restricting things that might fall outside the so-called “collegiate model,” a purposely vague phrase that is peppered all over the NCAA’s announcement.
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But it’s really not that complicated. The NCAA is basically going to have to allow athletes make money off their name, image and likeness once they’re in college. They just don’t want that to be part of the process before they arrive on campus where tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars are dictating where recruits decide to play.
“One of the other clear distinctions that is often overlooked by the general public is the collegiate model is also predicated upon students being recruited and making their own choice about where they’re going to go,” Emmert said. “There’s no draft. It’s not the Olympics where you go by virtue of your passport. So even though we all recognize some schools have advantages and disadvantages in recruitment, one of the biggest concerns the working group has spent a lot of time on and is going to keep spending time on is how do you allow liberalization and not have it just become part of the recruiting wars? That’s going to be one of the biggest challenges in coming up with real bylaws.”
Smith said his group has discussed “everything you guys can think of” in terms of addressing that specific problem, but it’s hard to get any real answers about what it would look like.
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What seems most likely to develop is some type of system where, if a college athlete wants to do an endorsement deal, it has to be approved by the NCAA itself or some independent group to approve it or nix it based on whether it’s market-rate pay and whether it had any relationship to the recruiting process. In other words, get ready to put yet another layer of bureaucracy onto an organization that already ties itself in knots with red tape.
“Maybe it needs minimal regulation or heavy regulation,” Ackerman said. “We don’t know. We’re just not there yet.”
Whether any of this will satisfy legislators in California or other states who are putting together proposals that have kind of pushed the NCAA to this point is unclear. California State Sen. Nancy Skinner,, told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday afternoon that they won’t accept any "arbitrary limitations" on college athletes’ right to their name, image and likeness.
Are the NCAA’s guardrails going to be arbitrary? That’s could very well be the next fight here. The NCAA clearly lost the argument on name, image and likeness. It’s happening. The only question is to what degree the system get opened up — and that very detailed, arduous policy-making process is only just beginning.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY:
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