On Tuesday, the National Collegiate Athletic Association announced that they will allow athletes to be compensated for their names, images and likenesses. The Board of Governors for the NCAA, which oversees collegiate athletics programs across the country, unanimously voted for the change.
"We must embrace change to provide the best possible experience for college athletes," said Michael V. Drake, chair of the board and president of The Ohio State University in a statement. "Additional flexibility in this area can and must continue to support college sports as a part of higher education. This modernization for the future is a natural extension of the numerous steps NCAA members have taken in recent years to improve support for student-athletes, including full cost of attendance and guaranteed scholarships."
The NCAA has directed each of the organization's three divisions, which have different rules on other financial matters like scholarships, to "immediately consider updates to relevant bylaws and policies." Schools in all divisions are expected to consider the NCAA's decision and provide recommendations about how the policy should be implemented to the NCAA Board of Governors in April.
California Governor Gavin Newsom says the announcement is a sign of progress.
"This is a step in the right direction, and the NCAA deserves credit for finally affirming what has been common sense to so many for so long," he said in a statement to CNBC Make It. "California will be closely watching as the NCAA's process moves forward to ensure the rules ultimately adopted are aligned with the legislation we passed this year."
In September, California became the first state to allow college athletes to profit from their athletic careers when Newsom signed the Fair Pay to Play Act. The legislation takes effect in 2023 and allows athletes at California colleges that make more than $10 million in media rights revenue each year to make money from their likenesses. They will also be allowed to hire an agent or attorney to represent them in business deals, without losing their eligibility to play college sports, similar to Olympic athletes.
Mark Emmert, president of the NCAA, repeatedly expressed his opposition to the California law, arguing that if California schools allow college athletes to make money, they would have an unfair advantage over schools in other states and warned that these schools would be barred from competing in NCAA championships.
As a result, some California schools such as Stanford and the University of Southern California opposed the bill.
But in Tuesday's statement from the NCAA, Emmert expressed a change of tone.
"As a national governing body, the NCAA is uniquely positioned to modify its rules to ensure fairness and a level playing field for student-athletes," said Emmert. "The board's action today creates a path to enhance opportunities for student-athletes while ensuring they compete against students and not professionals."
Newsom says these changes are much needed.
"Collegiate student-athletes put everything on the line – their physical health, future career prospects and years of their lives to compete," he says. "Colleges reap billions from these student-athletes' sacrifices and success but, in the same breath, block them from earning a single dollar. That model puts institutions ahead of the students they are supposed to serve and deserves to be disrupted."
The decision to allow student-athletes to make money is expected to have considerable support among students as well.
One survey of 2,501 college students by polling platform College Pulse found that a majority of students support initiatives to pay college athletes.
When asked whether athletes should be allowed to profit off their likeness, support was significant. About 77% of all students said they favor or strongly favor that policy and 81% of athletes said the same.
An overwhelming 80% of all students and 83% of athletes agreed that college athletes should be paid if their image is used for purposes such as selling merchandise.
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