A panel of national experts on the issue of name, image and likeness in college athletics convened at the University of Arizona on Monday night. They agreed on very few things — except that amateurism as it used to exist is a thing of the past.
UA President Robert C. Robbins and athletic director Dave Heeke moderated the nearly two-hour meeting. Panelists included a pair of former student-athletes, attorneys, an economist and an athletic director who is also a member of the NCAA’s working group to address state and federal legislation regarding name, image and likeness.
On Sept. 30, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill that will allow college athletes in the state to be compensated for the use of their likeness, hire agents to represent them and sign endorsement deals.
The law is set to go into effect in July 2023.
Monday’s panelists all had different takes on the issue, but they agreed that name, image and likeness compensation in some form will be happening. It’s no longer a matter of if, but when — and what will it look like.
Here a look each panelist’s take on the issue:
“We have to move big ship”
Colorado athletic director Rick George said the current collegiate model provides many benefits for student-athletes. Athletes graduate at a higher rate than regular students on most college campuses, he said, thanks in part to the opportunities provided to them through athletic departments.
George, a member of the NCAA Board of Governors Federal and State Legislation Working Group, said that name, image and likeness compensation is a “natural extension” of steps taken over the years to increase benefits for students who participate in sports.
George’s group has been tasked with writing a set of overarching principles to guide each division. The NCAA wants a plan completed by January 2021, George said.
“Student-athletes should be able to benefit from his or her name, image and likeness, similar to students who aren’t athletes,” George said. “This is an important area, and it’s the next step for our student-athletes.”
The NCAA must still define what will and won’t be allowed in terms of compensation, George said. The working group has been studying ways to modify current rules and how to handle the issues that are bound to crop up.
“We have to move a big ship — the NCAA and its member institutions — in a way that allows us to be thoughtful, but we’ve got to do it right,” George said.
It’s not yet clear what name, image and likeness rules will look like.
“Whatever it is, it’s not going to satisfy some people, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be what we think gives (student-athletes) the best opportunity,” he said.
Changing the lens through which we view amateurism
Jamie Miettinen is an attorney and sports law blogger who helps student-athletes navigate and understand the NCAA rulebook, which is 400-plus pages.
She said most athletes “don’t fully understand or know the extent of the control the NCAA and its partner organizations exert over their lives.”
Part of the problem is that terms are not clearly defined, she said, resulting in people having differing definitions of amateurism and competitive balance.
Two NCAA rules have remained constant over the years, Miettinen said: Athletes cannot be paid, and they must attend the school they play for. The rest has been added or subtracted over the years.
“What if we changed the lens through which we view amateurism?” Miettinen asked.
Miettinen suggested peeling back the unnecessary regulations on amateurism and reallocating the resources used to monitoring the money athletes make into education.
Then, she said, student-athletes wouldn’t have to worry about breaking the rules.
“There’s this idea that compensation is like this evil Pandora’s box’
Andy Schwarz, an economist and one of the founders of the Historical Basketball League, a college basketball league that will “enable athletes to directly benefit from their talent, marketability and hard work by offering an education and compensation,” worked to sponsor the California law. The league is set to launch in June with 12 teams.
Schwarz said the only way to “truly fix college sports” is to focus on athletes’ rights and not the current system.
Schwarz said “whole swaths” of majors are often off-limits to athletes because of their schedules. Athletes must squeeze their schooling in between practices, games and travel.
The collegiate system isn’t equitable for college athletes, Schwarz said, denying the notion that this is a complicated process.
“I don’t think a just, equitable solution is complex at all, except that it means that some people who benefit from the current injustice will get less,” Schwarz said.
Schwarz referred to actress Emma Watson, who filmed several “Harry Potter” movies during summer vacation as she attended Brown University. There was no limit on the money she could make, he said.
“There’s this idea that compensation is like this evil Pandora’s box, but we already opened it,” Schwarz said. “The only thing we slammed it down on was hope for the athletes.”
“Trying to shove a square peg into a round hole”
Former Syracuse and NFL quarterback Don McPherson said he believes a college education is enough compensation but that steps need to be taken to improve the culture and experience for student-athletes.
“Athletics was never meant to be a multibillion-dollar industry in higher education,” McPherson said. “We’re trying to shove a square peg into a round hole with this system.”
Most student-athletes don’t appreciate the value of their college experience, he said, which is a failure on the part of higher education.
“It’s been left to legislators and attorneys to figure out how to talk about these issues,” McPherson said, adding that these conversations are being had only because billions of dollars are being made around student-athletes. “We’re here because of what feels like exploitation of student-athletes at the highest level, but they’re receiving an opportunity, as did I, that’s invaluable.”
While McPherson understands that the issue of name, image and likeness compensation won’t be going away, he wishes there was more focus on helping student-athletes make the most of their college experience and preparing them for the future in terms of financial planning.
“We’re working within a system that’s broken”
Maddie Salamone, an attorney and former Duke lacrosse player, agreed that compensation isn’t the most serious issue facing student-athletes — but she had a different idea about what is.
“Abuse and mistreatment of athletes is the most pressing issue in college athletics,” Salamone said. “We’re working within a system that’s broken.”
But Salamone said she sees the issues as being linked.
“Use of name, image and likeness is not about paying athletes. It’s about allowing athletes to make full use of their body of work and their platform as athletes,” Salamone said.
The increasing opportunities to generate revenue through social media, including influencers and YouTube videos, can help grow fan bases and increase opportunities for women’s sports, she said.
“The notion that allowing athletes to have the same name, image and likeness rights as other students would be unfair to female athletes … falsely assumes that female athletes have no value,” Salamone said. “But it begins with the false premise that male and female athletes are treated the same now.”
“A nightmare situation for the NCAA”
Former agent Gregg Clifton, now an attorney with Jackson Lewis, talked extensively about the different pieces of legislation that are in the works across the country.
In New York, a bill has been introduced that would require colleges to share ticket revenues with athletes. Florida could soon pass something similar, Clifton said.
The California law, and those like it, come with complications. The bill doesn’t allow student-athletes to use their university’s logos, meaning they’ll have to request permission or negotiate with the school to use it. Student-athletes aren’t unionized, creating additional barriers, Clifton said.
“I think ultimately it’s going to end up being a federal issue,” Clifton said.
The alternative — 50 states with different laws about name, image and likeness — would be chaos. Clifton said a state offering compensation — say, California — would have a recruiting edge against states that don’t. Like, for now, Arizona.
It would create a “nightmare situation” for the NCAA, said Clifton, who represented big-league pitchers Tom Glavine and David Wells and former UA softball star Jennie Finch.
Clifton said he doesn’t think it’s the best approach to go all-in right away and give student-athletes unlimited name, image and likeness rights, but that the process should be rolled out slowly, one step at a time, in a way that it can be monitored.
“This is a work in progress,” Clifton said.