The NCAA announced its intention to start allowing its student-athletes to make money off their name, image and likeness on Wednesday morning.
It’s a decision that’s been long awaited, and is certainly long overdue. There are still questions, though, because there are always questions with complicated issues. What is permissible and what is not permissible — and exactly how those hairs are going to be split — will have to be seen. The Board of Governors approved the NIL proposals, and a vote is expected to be taken in January 2021 for adoption for the 2021-22 academic year.
But the basics are this: Players will be allowed to make money for product endorsements, social media content and autographs.
That’s a massive change. And it’s a frustrating change for certain fan bases that have seen their favorite programs dragged through the NCAA mud for violations that were ridiculous when they happened and would be fully legal and above board now.
Here are four examples. It’s not a comprehensive list, of course — for example, we’re not diving into Georgia’s A.J. Green being suspended four games for selling his bowl-game jersey for $1,000 in 2010 — but just some high-profile examples.
Ohio State’s Tattoo Gate
Five Ohio State players, including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor, were suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season for selling merchandise and receiving “improper benefits” from a tattoo parlor. The players sold Big Ten championship rings — from teams they played on — and their own football jerseys/pants/shoes, and Pryor sold a sportsmanship award he received after the 2008 Fiesta Bowl. In addition to the five-game suspension, players had to repay various amounts based on what they’d sold. The scandal ultimately led to the resignation of head coach Jim Tressel.
The discount at the tattoo parlor was what seized the headlines, though, partially because it was such a stupid thing to have a rule against.
“As a student-athlete,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said at the time, “you’re not allowed to use your persona to get discounted services.”
But starting in 2021-22? Use all the “persona” you want to get tattoos (or anything else), athletes. And Gene Smith, by the way, is co-chair of the NIL committee.
Alabama’s T-Town scandal
This one never resulted in actual NCAA punishments — a source of frustration for everyone other than Alabama fans — but it dominated the headlines for several months in 2011 (and again in 2014). There was a shop in Tuscaloosa, T-Town Menswear, that had a massive collection of items autographed by former and current Alabama football players. The “current players” part was the sticky issue.
There were also plenty of photos with the current football players posing with the shop’s owner, Tom Albetar, and while wearing merchandise that was available for purchase in the store. The questions were obvious: What were the players getting in exchange for all the autographs and pictures?
That question was never officially answered, which was part of the reason for a lack of punishment. Alabama sent a cease-and-desist letter to Albetar and disassociated him from the program. But, if nothing else, the photos of the current players were on display at the store, and they were pretty clearly being used to promote the store. That’s a violation, too. It was a silly violation then, and starting in the 2021-22 school year, it won’t be a violation at all.
Steve Alford’s charity calendar
This “violation” drove Indiana fans crazy at the time and it still gets their Hoosier blood boiling, as it rightly should. Steve Alford was their home-grown superstar in the middle of a legendary career in Bloomington. He’d represented the school in the 1984 Olympic Games and would lead the Hoosiers to the 1987 National Championship. He averaged nearly 17 points per game his first two seasons at IU, but he was forced to miss his team’s December 1985 rivalry game against Kentucky, in his junior season, because of a violation of NCAA rules.
What did Alford do? He posed for a charity calendar for the Gamma Phi Beta sorority. Yep. He wasn’t paid for the appearance, and the calendar raised money for charity. But because the calendar was used to make money — didn’t matter how the money was used — that was a violation. When IU coach Bobby Knight heard about the calendar, he immediately self-reported the violation to the NCAA.
IU faced a choice: It could suspend Alford for the next game — just happened that it was the annual Kentucky showdown — or wait and take the matter to the NCAA infractions committee, where something along the lines of a three-game suspension was possible. Knight chose the one-game option, and the Hoosiers lost to Kentucky.
Johnny Football’s autographs
There was nothing dull about Johnny Manziel’s career as the quarterback at Texas A&M. The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner got into hot water with the NCAA for allegedly being paid a “five-figure flat fee” for signing merchandise before the 2013 BCS title game in Miami. And several other reports circulated about similar “scandals,” but there was no proof found.
There was no incentive for anyone to talk with the NCAA, and, basically, no paper trail meant no way to severely punish Manziel. He was suspended for the first half of A&M’s 2013 season-opening home game against Rice.