Nation & World

NCAA opens door to student-athletes earning pay

Lawmakers including two in Iowa advance bills allowing it

The NCAA logo is seen in the second half of the game between the Northwestern Wildcats and the Vanderbilt Commodores during the first round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Vivint Smart Home Arena on March 16, 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images/TNS)
The NCAA logo is seen in the second half of the game between the Northwestern Wildcats and the Vanderbilt Commodores during the first round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Vivint Smart Home Arena on March 16, 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images/TNS)

Amid rising pressure from lawmakers including two in Iowa to let college athletes profit from their fame, the NCAA announced Tuesday it would consider rule changes giving college athletes “the opportunity to benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.”

The statement and an accompanying NCAA “questions and answers” explanation represented the organization’s first acknowledgment of a willingness to discuss permitting student-athletes to trade on their fame. However, it contained few specifics on how doing so could be reconciled with “the collegiate model” that prohibits such benefits and likely won’t quell the organization’s critics or pacify elected officials pushing for change.

The NCAA restated its opposition to a state law in California that will permit college athletes to sign sponsorship deals, charge for autographs and earn money through other similar opportunities beginning in 2023.

“The California law and other proposed measures ultimately would lead to pay for play and turn college athletes into employees,” the NCAA said Tuesday after a meeting of its leadership in Emory University in Atlanta. “This directly contradicts the mission of college sports within higher education — that student-athletes are students first and choose to play a sport they love against other students while earning a degree.”

In Iowa, both Republican state Rep. Joe Mitchell of Mount Pleasant and Democratic state Rep, Ras Smith of Waterloo have directed that bills patterned after the California law be prepared so they can be considered next year by the Iowa Legislature.

“I can’t say that we’ll have a lot of people in our sports programs getting rich off this, but maybe they won’t eat ramen as much,” Smith said of his proposal, referring to the low-cost noodles well-known to college students on a budget. “We’re not talking hundreds of thousands of dollars, but we’ll have some students who can pay off their loans and spend more time on their academics because they aren’t trying to be a full-time student-athlete and work a job in the offseason.”

Lawmakers in more than 10 states have expressed interest in bills similar the one passed in California. On the federal level, U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., has proposed legislation that would allow college athletes to earn money through name, image and likeness deals, and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, expressed support.

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The issue has taken on increased saliency as more and more states including Iowa have moved to legalize collegiate and professional sports betting. In just the first six weeks this year covered under the new law, Iowa bettors spent over $47 million gambling on sports. With that kind of money at stake, student athletes and their advocates have wondered, who do so many others stand to make money from collegiate athletes’ performance?

The National College Players Association, a nonprofit that advocates for expanded income and rights for college athletes, criticized Tuesday’s announcement as largely meaningless.

“I think this is a bit of smoke and mirrors here, which signals that the NCAA is still going to oppose players receiving real compensation,” said Ramogi Huma, executive director of the association and a former football player at UCLA, in a phone interview. “I hope state and federal lawmakers see this, and know they should go full speed ahead. ... I don’t think this is going to happen voluntarily.”

Staff of The Gazette contributed.

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