NCAA Reverses Player Endorsement Policy

In 2014, a class action lawsuit filed by Ed O'Bannon, a former University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) basketball player, and Sam Keller, a former Arizona State University quarterback, claimed that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) violated antitrust laws, which are designed to prohibit companies from monopolizing markets and obstructing competition by preventing athletes from sharing the revenue generated from their likenesses in broadcasts and video games.

In 2014, a class action lawsuit filed by Ed O'Bannon, a former University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) basketball player, and Sam Keller, a former Arizona State University quarterback, claimed that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) violated antitrust laws, which are designed to prohibit companies from monopolizing markets and obstructing competition by preventing athletes from sharing the revenue generated from their likenesses in broadcasts and video games. The EA Sports video game series NCAA Basketball and NCAA Football incited the lawsuit, as they used unnamed players with the same skills, features, and appearances as former or current players without their permission. The suit eventually settled for $60 million and compensated over 29,000 athletes, consequently stopping production of the games after 11 successful years to avoid further controversy and continuing to pay players. However, aside from the money NCAA athletes earned from that singular lawsuit, they have not previously been allowed to accept money in any way whatsoever. Players were even required to ask the NCAA for permission to work a summer job, until now.

On April 29, the NCAA Board of Governors moved towards allowing student-athlete compensation for endorsements and promotions, with the new rules ready to be implemented as soon as the 2021-22 academic year begins. Annually, the NCAA rakes in around $11 billion in profit, yet its players are not allowed to receive any money for their efforts. Thousands of college athletes from low-income backgrounds are left to fend for themselves; oftentimes, even accepting something as trivial as a gift of a bag of groceries could see them suspended, which happened to UCLA linebacker Donnie Edwards in 1995. While the NCAA thrives, a 2013 National College Players Association study found that 86 percent of Division I (D-I) football players live under the poverty line. Although some qualified recruits have the prospect of earning scholarships, even then, there are only six collegiate sports where scholarships are fully guaranteed: such opportunities in football are rare. Not to mention, the average out-of-pocket annual expense for a D-I athlete is just over $3,000, paid for by families, savings, or loans because players can't alleviate the cost with any earned income. Without means to pay for these costs, players can suffer both athletically and academically.

The new endorsement rules will allow the players to use their name, sport, and their school's name but block the use of any trademarks, phrases, logos, clothing, or anything else associated with the school itself. Endorsements via social media and paid autograph signings will now be permitted, but sharing the profit of one's jersey sales will not be, as any money received directly from the school would classify the athlete as an employee, not a student. However, although such regulations have their benefits and provide college athletes with more financial support, the new rules raise another notable concern: a legalized form of cheating. Boosters, individuals or organizations who support schools by donating financial resources, can offer guaranteed endorsement deals or sponsorships to entice a recruit to attend their school. Schools with similar resources at their disposal could compete with each other, nulling some financial advantages, but underfunded programs will be severely disadvantaged.

With the exception of competing for recruits with financial incentives, allowing student-athletes to receive compensation benefits all parties, as players can earn well-deserved money and companies will benefit from the players' images, with universities getting a marketing boost for free.

There have always been star athletes, but college athletics generally perpetuate a strong pack mentality: Win together, lose together. Previously, players could not afford to demand special treatment because getting benched could end one's career. With these new rules, college superstars could make millions before graduation, which would greatly disrupt their team's power dynamic, including the group mindset.

Still, all players stand to benefit: The higher caliber players will make the most money, but the small-time bench players who are heroes in their hometowns can still make some change at a local sports camp or autograph signing. Even the ability to pick up a part time job could greatly improve the lives of these players who make sacrifices for their sport.

Without a doubt, these new rules will change college athletics forever. While certain changes may compromise the recruiting process and the power dynamic between schools, giving athletes the opportunity to financially sustain themselves will ultimately create a greater positive impact. Even though a handful of players will prioritize their new sponsorship on Instagram over being on time for practice, for athletes living under the poverty line, this sponsorship money may make the difference between providing three meals a day or two for their families, an extreme but possible example. NCAA athletes have given so much of their freedom, time, and energy to their schools, so being able to use their talents to benefit themselves and their families by making money is well deserved and long overdue.

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