This week, the NCAA Board of Governors did something reasonable. It voted to start allowing compensation for athletes for the use of their name, likeness and image. This means that athletes can get paid for ads featuring them or for the jerseys that they sell.
In the context of some past reforms, like allowing undrafted NBA players to come back and cost of attendance stipends, it feels like a gust of fresh air.
“We must embrace change,” Michael Drake, chair of the board and president of Ohio State University, told the Wall Street Journal after the decision. Drake took over for former University of Minnesota president Eric Kaler, who also presided over some notable NCAA reforms.
It is change, but it doesn’t fundamentally change the NCAA. Instead, it preserves the NCAA’s suspect model of amateurism. These reforms are just a cop out for bringing the real changes that the NCAA needs.
This is revealed by the way these new reforms came about.
Usually, when the NCAA gets mad and cannot ruin the education or career of a young student, it writes letters. Most of these letters don't really do much. Besides the narrow confines of actual collegiate athletics, the NCAA doesn't have much power. It isn't a government entity, but it very much wants to be.
So, it was funny seeing the NCAA try to tussle with the State of California. Last month, the California Assembly passed a bill allowing college athletes many of the same rights that the new NCAA decision creates, but clearly articulated and more expansive. There was no gray area about athletes’ rights, like the new NCAA decision.
The law was obviously fair and sensible. But, the NCAA isn’t. It is a vampire squid, sucking the profit out of players whose labor fills stadiums and sells jerseys. The NCAA sent an angry letter to the Assembly. It urged California Governor Gavin Newsom to reject the bill, noting that it might violate federal law and that the letter was “…not intended to be a threat at all.”
California really didn’t care that the NCAA mentioned a possible lawsuit. Governor Newsom signed the bill into law, with a delay period until 2023, when it will take effect. This got other states interested, too. Now, New York and Pennsylvania are looking into it.
That’s why the NCAA Board of Governors acted this week to begin exploring an alternate form of compensation. It saw that it was outplayed and tried to stop the bleeding. It's unclear how this kind of lighter compensation fits in NCAA’s broader ideology of amateurism, but the NCAA had to do something, before a bigger wave of legislation took a more meaningful swing at amateurism.
What’s important now is to make sure that this initial wave is not just that. The NCAA’s piecemeal-style reform is meant to nickel and dime us out of doing the right thing for college athletes: paying them.