The National Collegiate Athletic Association has opened the door for student athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness. A lot of the discussion focuses around high-profile stars, but that's a small fraction of student athletes affected by NCAA rules and the proposed change by the Indianapolis-based organization would go well beyond endorsement deals.
Right now, NCAA rules prevent student athletes from making money in all kinds of ways, including profiting off their own business, unless they receive a waiver.
Former Texas A&M cross-country athlete Ryan Trahan learned that lesson the hard way. A couple years ago, his eligibility was revoked after he promoted his water bottle company on his YouTube channel that also highlighted his time as a Division I athlete.
“Basically have to hide the fact that I own this company that I am so proud of and have worked so hard on and, you know, things are starting to roll,” said Trahan in one of his videos. “And the other option is I can own the company, I can let people know I own the company, I can promote it all I want, but I can’t let anyone know that I run cross-country and track for Texas A&M.”
At the time, he said he was left with a decision he felt was unfair.
“When you have to follow rules that you feel are ethically wrong, it’s just so frustrating,” said Trahan.
Those rules could be changing. The NCAA board recently recommended an overhaul that would roll back some of the restrictions on what student athletes can earn. The organization, headquartered in Indianapolis, didn’t respond to a request for an interview.
Morgan Chall is a former college gymnast, and now chairs the NCAA Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. With this announcement, she says athletes may not have to make the choice Trahan had to.
“And what this means is, you know, in terms of entrepreneurship and professional development, if I wanted to publish my own book, or start my own business, I would be able to do so I just wouldn't be able to accept any compensation for it so long as I'm an athlete,” says Chall.
And now with social media and technology, rules made decades ago need to be updated. She says the change will not affect just elite athletes receiving endorsements, it will allow all student athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness.
“Which are the issues that 98 percent of student athletes really faced with honestly not even 98 percent I'd say 100 percent of student athletes face with the current rules,” says Chall.
Including student athletes at the University of Evansville in southern Indiana.
After years of conversation about the NCAA rules, Athletic Director Mark Spencer is waiting to see a final outline of the rule change but generally supports the concept. He says he and other athletic directors and schools want to give students a chance to create and promote their own businesses, as long as there are boundaries.
“We hate having to have student athletes be separated anymore than they are from being a normal students,” says Spencer. “So if normal students can profit from it, then why not the student athletes?”
It will be at least many months before the rules might change. But with a growing number of states considering legislation to force the issue, many say change is inevitable.
Josh Boyd is a professor at Purdue University’s Brian Lamb School of Communication and has written about the NCAA, and the business of amateur athletics. Boyd says the rule change will transform college sports. But he says any implementation will be complicated and he fears it could widen the separation between student athletes in higher- and lower-profile sports.
“And I know that's one of the things that the NCAA has talked about being a disadvantage of paying players or having any kind of compensation for athletes is that it would widen that divide,” says Boyd.
Chall agrees and says without clear guidelines, allowing student athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness could do more harm than good.
“No one is talking about how any of these proposals are going to impact limited resource institutions or historically black universities and colleges or international student-athletes,” she says. “And it could really limit future opportunities for all those groups of people.”
Each of the three divisions under the NCAA will meet and establish rules within the guidelines the NCAA creates with a target start date in 2021.