State bills pressure NCAA to change ways

The discourse around paying college athletes has been growing more and more in recent months. The name, image and likeness argument based around athletes not being able to profit from their image has started to move in an unprecedented direction for the NCAA. California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill in September, opening the possibility for the state to pass a law in the near future that would allow its athletes to be paid for the use of their name, image, and likeness in the form of sponsorships or promotional appearances.

California was not alone with this bill, other states are beginning to put their own bills into place. Illinois is one of the states that has begun to take action, with house bill 3904 being introduced on Sept. 30. These bills are a part of the biggest push in recent memory for the NCAA to take its own action towards letting athletes profit off of their name, image and likeness. And they did, or at least they made it look like they might. On Oct. 29, the NCAA Board of Governors released a statement furthering their interests in the name, image and likeness talks. They expressed their potential interest in a letter sent to athletic directors across all three divisions.

“The Board of Governors today adopted a new policy that sets in motion the process to allow name, image and likeness opportunities for student-athletes,” NCAA president Mark Emmert wrote. “The board directed the three divisions to immediately consider modifying and modernizing relevant bylaws and policies consistent with our values and principles.”

This was huge news at first, but at a closer glance, one notices that people are a little further away from getting all of the parts in order, including a solid agreement between the NCAA, athletic directors, and government. Getting all three divisions to find a uniform decision on this will be a tall task.

DePaul athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto has been vocal about this debate over the past couple of months. Per a tweet by The Athletic’s Darren Rovell at the Chicago Sports Summit in September, Lenti Ponsetto said that having to negotiate salaries with college athletes would be “the demise of intercollegiate athletics as we know it.”

Paying salaries to student-athletes places a lot more financial stress on universities than letting them use their name, image, and likeness. The concern with NIL comes with the possible exploitation of student-athletes by agents and organizations.

This concern prompted a letter from many athletic directors of top Division I schools in Illinois in response to the proposed bill.

“We share the sponsors’ interests in supporting the welfare of student-athletes, but we find this bill to be harmful in the short term and, in the end, unnecessary,” the letter read.

Barring changes in NCAA policies, the proposed bill would render Illinois schools ineligible by NCAA standards.

This, coupled with the concern of athlete exploitation, is key for athletic directors. The bill doesn’t have language regarding how athletes will be protected from outside revenue sources.

“It’s very risky for a major corporate company that typically sponsors professional athletes,” Lenti Ponsetto said. “They’re very cautious about the professional athletes that they sponsor, and I think student-athletes at the collegiate level, their talent is so unproven in most cases that you’re making an investment into an unknown entity. And so I don’t know that there would be that many of them but I do think that there could potentially be the impression or a statement made to prospective student-athletes and their parents about what the value of their son or daughter might be. And then they signed with an agent and then that value doesn’t come to fruition.”

Newsom’s actions were the first of many to follow, yet the problem for athletic departments is the speed of the whole ordeal. The bills being signed in various states are contributing to the NCAA’s decision-making process.

The Illinois athletic departments come together every now and then when a bill is being passed that would affect the way their institutions are run.

Yet the California bill sparked something in the NCAA that would bring in an unforeseen statement by the NCAA board of governors. The process seems to be speeding along a little quicker than many would think.

“I think it’s damage control on [the NCAA’s] part,” DePaul professor Robert Kallen said. “The California legislation was not going to go-away and they were trying to be a little bit preemptive and see if they could hold it off for a little bit.”

The NCAA will be forced to adapt, and even change their rules that have been under scrutiny in recent years, mainly about amateurism.

The NCAA Eligibility Center states on their website that “After student-athletes enroll at an NCAA school, they may no longer promote or endorse a product or allow their name, image or likeness to be used for commercial or promotional purposes.”

Not only does this prevent college athletes from appearing in commercials and sponsorships, but it also will keep them from making money from other sources such as writing a book.

“I’m a believer that in that if you’re a student-athletes and you go to the DePaul CDM program and you develop a video game like your other classmates who are going to be compensated or paid for that, you should be entitled to receive remuneration for that,” Lenti Ponsetto said.

The NCAA has tried to define the harsh line between amateurs and professionals. Professional athletes and college athletes have distinct differences in terms of autonomy. NCAA athletes have never been able to legally use their fame for their own fortune.

“I’m not a big fan of and I would be disappointed if we went down the path of student-athletes, for example, being paid to give their autograph to a little kid who came to one of their games,” Lenti Ponsetto said. “I’m not a fan of that, I’m not in favor of that. I don’t think it benefits the student-athlete and I certainly don’t think that anybody who’s on the potential receiving end thinks of college athletics in that way that they would pay a college student-athlete for their autograph.”

The NCAA is facing pressure from all around to reform its amateurism rules, and a big part of it is starting to come from state governments and legislators.

I think if we’re going to get change, change is going to have to come via government,” Kallen said. “It’s not going to come via the NCAA or the university presidents or the athletic department.”

Key dates and events in NIL debate

California Senate Bill introduced – Feb. 4, 2019

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signs Bill 206 into law. – Sept. 30, 2019

Illinois Rep. Emmanuel Welch introduces Illinois House Bill 3904 – Sept. 30, 2019

NCAA Board of Governors release statement to further talks – Oct. 29, 2019

Illinois Athletic Directors release statement opposing House Bill 3904 – Oct. 29, 2019

California Bill 206 becomes official law – Jan. 1, 2023