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NCAA: Student Athletes May be Paid for Names, Images, and Likenesses

Higher Education Publications

On Tuesday, the Board of Governors of the NCAA unanimously voted to reverse its longstanding policy by permitting students participating in athletics to benefit from the use of their names, images, and likenesses in licensing and broadcast. The decision was announced in a press release Tuesday afternoon, in which the Board of Governors directed each NCAA division to “immediately consider modernization of bylaws and policies.” Each division has been given until January 2021 to create new rules. The practical and legal implications of this change are far reaching. For institutions seeking to weigh in on the proposed change—now is the time. The NCAA’s working group will gather feedback from now until April 2020.

This decision follows close on the heels of the NFL Players Association announcement on Monday that it would collaborate with the National College Players Association to ensure college athletes benefit from use of the names, images, and likenesses stemming from the sale of licensing and broadcast rights. This decision also comes at a time where several states—specifically California, Florida, New York, Minnesota, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina—are moving to enact “pay to play” legislation that would permit college athletes to receive compensation for endorsement deals.

Notably, the NCAA reiterated in its press release that college athletes should not be compensated for athletic performance or treated as employees of the university. The NCAA stressed that student athletes are students first and that there should be clear distinction between collegiate and professional opportunities.

The practical implications of allowing student athletes to benefit from use of their names, images, and likenesses remain to be seen. Significant questions have yet to be determined as to the scope of “benefits,” the role of the institution, and the intersection with traditional, labor, employment, and civil rights laws, which may be state specific. To understand the scope of the potential impact, institutions should begin reviewing all relevant policies, agreements, and practices now to identify priorities and next steps.