University of Alaska administration comments on NCAA ruling to allow athletes to earn money from image, likeness

Published: Oct. 30, 2019 at 7:36 PM AKDT
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The NCAA took a major step Tuesday toward allowing college athletes to cash in on their fame, voting to permit them to “benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness.”

The nation’s largest governing body for college sports and its member schools now must figure out how to allow athletes to profit — something they have fought against doing for years — while still maintaining rules regarding amateurism. The NCAA Board of Governors, meeting at Emory University in Atlanta, directed each of the NCAA’s three divisions to create the necessary new rules immediately and have them in place no later than January 2021.

"My initial reaction is, 'great!' University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen said of the ruling. " I think that if a superstar debater would be allowed to sell his or her image in a debate game, or an I.T. student at the University could market his or her skill to an I.T. company, why can't student-athletes do the same? So, philosophically I actually think it's a great thing."

Board chair Michael Drake, the president of Ohio State University, said in a news release the NCAA must embrace change and modernize “to provide the best possible experience for college athletes.”

The news release would also provide principles and guidelines the modernization should occur within:

- Assure student-athletes are treated similarly to non-athlete students unless a compelling reason exists to differentiate.

- Maintain the priorities of education and the collegiate experience to provide opportunities for student-athlete success.

- Ensure rules are transparent, focused and enforceable and facilitate fair and balanced competition.

- Make clear the distinction between collegiate and professional opportunities.

- Make clear that compensation for athletics performance or participation is impermissible.

- Reaffirm that student-athletes are students first and not employees of the university.

- Enhance principles of diversity, inclusion and gender equity.

- Protect the recruiting environment and prohibit inducements to select, remain at, or transfer to a specific institution.

When asked about how this ruling will affect University of Alaska Fairbanks athletes, who compete in Division II with the exception of rifle and hockey, who compete at the DI level, UAF Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Athletics Keith Champagne said, "At this point, I am not sure what it means. On the surface, they're allowed to benefit from their likeness, but we haven't figured out the mechanism or the conduit by which to compensate them for," Champagne said. "That is why if we are going to have athletes benefit, I like the idea, whether it is Division I, Division II, or Division III, establishing a trust fund."

Champagne would go on to describe the idea of a trust fund for student athletes based on the money generated by the athlete or their sport.

"I would prefer to see it be placed in a trust fund. One, so that upon graduation, based on what was generated by that sport, based on that individual or that team of individuals, and say 'okay, we are going to give you some compensation through this trust fund upon graduation,'" Champagne said. "If you want to continue on to higher education or also if you have injuries that you have suffered as a result of playing your sport, that if you try to get insurance on an open market, it might be determined to be preexisting conditions," Champagne added. "So, I would like some type trust fund to help with insurance and to help with furthering their education costs. Also, if you have young people who have had concussions over a period of time, all of that could be given to athletes from this trust fund upon their graduation."

A group of NCAA administrators has been exploring since May the ways in which athletes could be allowed to receive compensation for the use of their names, images and likenesses. The working group, led by Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith and Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman, presented a status report Tuesday to the university presidents who make up the Board of Governors.

Smith and Ackerman’s group laid out principles and guidelines, endorsed by the board, to be followed as NCAA members go about crafting new rules and tweaking existing ones, including:

Some college sports leaders fear allowing athletes to earn outside income could open the door to corruption.

“One of the most distinctive things about college sports is this whole recruitment process,” NCAA President Mark Emmert told the AP. “The whole notion of trying to maintain as fair a playing field as you can is really central to all this. And using sponsorship arrangements, in one way or another, as recruiting inducements is something everybody is deeply concerned about.”

Ackerman and Smith said the challenges lie in determining what regulations need to be set in place; what markets athletes should be allowed to access; what entities and individuals they should be permitted to work with; and whether the schools themselves could provide funds to athletes through licensing deals.

The NCAA’s move came a month after California passed a law that would make it illegal for NCAA schools to prohibit college athletes from making money on endorsements, autograph signings and social media advertising, among other activities.

“California has made it clear that we won’t accept any arbitrary limitations on college athletes’ right to their name, image, and likeness,” state Sen. Nancy Skinner, who co-sponsored the bill, posted in Twitter.

The California law goes into effect in 2023. More than a dozen states have followed with similar legislation, some of which could be on the books as soon as next year.

“This is another attempt by the NCAA at stalling on this issue,” said Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association, an advocacy group.

It’s hard to say exactly how much athletes could fetch on an open market for their names. It could range from a few hundred dollars for creating personalized video and audio greetings for fans through companies such as Cameo, to thousands of dollars for doing television advertisements for local businesses.

NCAA rules allow for an athletic scholarship that covers tuition, room and board, books and a cost-of-attendance stipend. The cost of attendance is determined by the institution using federal guidelines and generally ranges from $2,000-$5,000 per semester.

Gabe Feldman, director of the Tulane University sports law program, said the NCAA has taken an important step by recognizing its rules are antiquated.

“But the ultimate question is how are the rules modified to both allow college athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness while also being consistent with the collegiate model,” Feldman said.

The NCAA has said California’s law is unconstitutional, and any states that pass similar legislation could see their athletes and schools being declared ineligible to compete. But the board also said it hopes to reach a resolution with states without going to court.

In addition to pending state laws, North Carolina Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Walker has proposed a national bill that would prohibit the NCAA and its member schools from restricting athletes from selling the rights to their names, images and likenesses to third-party buyers on the open market.

“We’re going to continue to communicate with legislators at the state and federal level,” Emmert said. “That’s one of the things that the board is asking of me and my staff and the membership in general, and hopefully we can avoid anything that’s a direct conflict with our state legislators.”