The report issued Wednesday by the NCAA Board of Governors, based on recommendations from the organization’s working group on student name, image and likeness (NIL) issues, weighed in at 31 pages. Even if you don’t print out the PDF file, that feels like a lot of paper.
It’s a lot of information on a complicated issue, so it should not be a surprise that it wasn’t easily digestible to the American sports fan. There were many misconceptions flying in the hours after NCAA president Mark Emmert, Big East commissioner Val Ackerman and Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith did a thorough job explaining the plan — and potential obstacles — for college athletes soon to accept payments for endorsements, social media activity, personal appearances and businesses they create.
As always, we are here to help separate truth from myth, with examples culled from listening to various sports talk programs and reading Twitter:
1. Ninety percent of college teams will no longer be relevant.
MOSTLY WRONG. This largely depends on the sport in question — and also depends on one’s definition of relevance. The Cincinnati Bearcats and Memphis Tigers begin each season with zero chance to reach the College Football Playoff, but they staged two classic matchups last November that determined which would be American Athletic Conference champion. The crowds of the two games averaged out to 34,740. The people who attended seemed to be entertained.
That they didn’t matter relative to the national championship is the fault of the College Football Playoff, which has been in place since 2014. It has served to concentrate the power in the game to a few select schools, most notably Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State. Name, image and likeness rights were not at all a factor in this.
In NCAA basketball, the fact either Duke or Kentucky rang up every single No. 1 recruiting class from 2009 to 2018 didn’t prevent Villanova and Connecticut from winning two NCAA titles each. The Devils and Wildcats were annually significant, with Duke winning it all in 2010 and 2015, and Kentucky in 2012, but there was plenty of room for such programs as Butler, Wichita State and Loyola to reach the Final Four, and for Dayton to position itself to receiver a No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed.
There is no evidence or logic that dictates the advent of NIL deals for college athletes will disrupt that uncommon competitive balance.
2. Schools will form marketing departments to make deals for their athletes.
WRONG. Schools will be prohibited from involvement in arranging marketing opportunities for their athletes. And, trust me, that’s exactly as they want it. Because they do not want to cross the line between student/athlete and employee. They do not want their athletes to be considered professional. And they do not want the Title IX headaches that would be massive if, as one can surmise based on attendance and television revenues for the various sports, athletes in men’s basketball and football receive an oversized portion of whatever financial opportunities develop.
3. Schools will recruit by promising to arrange appearance fees.
WRONG. As discussed, the schools will not be involved in arranging NIL opportunities for students. And, as was made clear by Ackerman, boosters will not be permitted to be involved in the recruiting process by offering such deals in advance of enrollment.
Now, certainly a head coach could go into a home visit and say, “Our starting quarterback did very well at autograph signings last autumn, and I could see you reaping the same benefit.” That’s not really different than a coach promising a high school star he’ll have a leg up on making the NFL by signing at State U.
But if a booster were to whisper to that same young man that there’d be a car and an appearance contract waiting if he signs — well, that would be an NCAA rules violation. It would be cheating. We have cheating now. This would just put a different spin on it.
4. Fair market value is established by what a party is willing to pay, and the NCAA has no business interfering.
SORRY, NO. The NCAA is fine with allowing athletes to earn what the market typically pays, but not what some overzealous booster is willing to deliver simply to help State U win or to cozy up to the superstar quarterback.
This is no different, clearly, than outlawing no-show jobs. Should athletes be paid for turning on the automatic sprinklers? That garbage was going on so long ago it showed up as a scene in “One on One,” which was released in 1977.
If an athlete makes a personal appearance at a car dealership or autograph signing, it need not be juiced by the jock-loving booster sweetening the payday. Fair market value. That’s what people have begged for years, and with great volume since Twitter was invented. Fine. Then that should be the standard.
5. Schools in the biggest markets will have a huge advantage.
SO WRONG. Since when have big-city schools dominated college athletics? Since 1976, when Tony Dorsett and the Pitt Panthers went 12-0, the city-based college football champions have been: Miami (1983, 1987, 1989, 2001); Washington (1991), Ohio State (2002, 2014), USC (2004) and Texas (2005). That’s nine in 43 years. And, let’s be honest, Columbus and Austin are as much college towns as they are big cities.
There isn’t any question that big college brands attract the best players. But those brands are big because the teams have enormous followings that extend to state borders and often beyond. And those followings emanate from less populated places such as Tuscaloosa (a town of 101,000 in the 24th most-populated state) and Clemson (a town of 17,000 in the 23rd most-populated state).
In college basketball, Gonzaga is a school of 7,400 in a city of 219,000. And yet its teams are known from coast to coast.
Big-city schools actually might have a disadvantage because professional athletes tend to dominate their markets.
6. The NCAA is trying to keep college football/basketball video games off the market.
RIDICULOUS. When has the NCAA ever been eager to turn down money? If there were a popular video game or games based on college sports, the organization and its member schools would receive income from the enterprise, as would the players.
But the sort of arrangements that exist now for NFL players or NBA players to aggregate licensing fees do not exist for college athletes. And creating one is a tricky deal, because the colleges — as mentioned — have no desire to proclaim their athletes to be employees.
There’s a logic to that. If a Division I football player is an employee, is one who plays in Division III, also? If a D-I basketball player is an employee, is a Division I field hockey player? If every athlete at a Power 5 program were an employee, that likely would lay off more than half; most of them are engaged in sports that lose significant amounts of money.
Video games are not central to the issue of the NCAA’s request for congressional action on NIL rights, but the NCAA’s release on this development made sure to mention it.