The N.C.A.A. Board of Governors voted to support rule changes that would allow athletes to cash in on the use of their fame, as long as schools were not paying athletes for any of these money-generating opportunities, the N.C.A.A. announced Wednesday.
The board’s recommendations will be forwarded to the N.C.A.A.’s three divisions, which are expected by next January to adopt name, imagine and likeness rules that would go into place at the start of the 2021-22 academic year.
The N.C.A.A. had been under increasing pressure in recent years to allow athletes to capitalize on the use of their unique abilities, just like other students can if they have exceptional talents but do not compete in sports. The plan would let athletes make deals as social media influencers, appear in commercials or hold paid autograph sessions.
But the N.C.A.A.’s opening financial opportunities for athletes did not come without restrictions.
The most significant one is that students would not be paid directly by universities, something the N.C.A.A. will go to Congress to ask for federal protection on the idea that athletes are not university employees.
But the thorniest guidelines the board forwarded are that name, image and likeness cannot be used for recruiting or boosters, and the regulation of agents and advisers — both issues that may be problematic to enforce.
The N.C.A.A.’s position began to shift last fall after California unanimously passed a bill that, beginning in 2023, would allow students to be compensated for the use of their name, image and likeness. Soon, after seeing the support the bill generated from politicians and star athletes like LeBron James, one state after another followed with similar measures.
Finding itself outflanked, the N.C.A.A. pivoted and in late October announced that it would develop rules that would allow athletes to profit off the use of their name, image and likeness — with one sizable caveat: athletes could not be considered employees.
To do so could lead to the collapse of the college sports empire, which has been largely built upon the backs of an unpaid labor force for its two bread-winning sports: football and men’s basketball.
Thus, President Mark Emmert said in his January address at the N.C.A.A.’s annual winter convention: “The existential crisis to me is: Can we respond in a way that makes sense for our students and supports the college sports model?”
The proposals rolled out on Wednesday are an attempt to strike that balance.
But as a sign that the N.C.A.A. has not relented completely, it plans to continue lobbying Congress to ensure that there is “federal pre-emption” over state name, image and likeness laws and will ask for a “safe harbor” to protect against lawsuits.