N.C.A.A. Misses Target to Approve Rules to Let Players Profit Off Their Fame


Teetering between deliberation and dysfunction, the N.C.A.A.’s debate over how to allow student-athletes to earn money off their fame stalled yet again on Wednesday.

Although the N.C.A.A. said in May that its Division I Council, one of the most influential bodies in college sports, was “expected to act” this week to approve new rules about how students may profit off their names, images and likenesses, a two-day meeting adjourned Wednesday without a vote. Some members had recently signaled that they expected to delay a decision, and the council is scheduled to meet again on Monday, three days before at least six states are scheduled to grant new economic rights to student-athletes — regardless of whether the N.C.A.A. concurs.

But the N.C.A.A.’s missing of another self-imposed deadline — it postponed a planned vote in January after the Justice Department in the closing days of the Trump administration voiced concerns about the association’s proposals — signals the depth of divisions inside a multibillion-dollar industry on the verge of experiencing change that was far from its own idea.

“There have been some other critical issues, but nothing resonated to this kind of situation,” said Dennis E. Thomas, the longtime commissioner of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. “I think we are all frustrated.”

All three N.C.A.A. divisions are considering how to allow students some rights to sign endorsement deals and gain other outside income, but most of the attention has focused on Division I, which includes the most prominent conferences in college athletics and more than 170,000 student-athletes.

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The Division I council, whose membership includes people like conference commissioners and athletic directors, is weighing two proposals to give students the chance to earn money through endorsements or by monetizing their social media accounts. One, which emerged in recent days and has the support of some of the top leagues, would essentially tell universities to follow the name, image and likeness (N.I.L.) laws in their states or, if they are in places without such statutes, to write their own rules.

In a letter on Friday, the commissioners of the Atlantic Coast, Metro Atlantic Athletic, Pac-12, Southeastern, Southwestern Athletic and Sun Belt Conferences said their joint proposal was “designed to minimize the risks to student‐athletes and member institutions, ensure that N.C.A.A. legislation is compliant with the laws of all states, and afford N.I.L. opportunities to student‐athletes in states where there currently is no N.I.L. law.”

Their proposal, though, arrived late in a process that has stretched for more than two years. Until the last week, N.C.A.A. leaders were focused on a plan that would extend new rights to athletes in a more restricted way and give the industry clearer authority.

Under the original approach, students would be able to earn money from endorsements. But their schools could block deals in certain situations, like if they conflicted with “existing institutional sponsorship arrangements.”

With more state laws scheduled to take effect in the coming years, and some of them poised to go further than the N.C.A.A.’s potential rules, many college sports leaders fear that variations in state standards will lead to unfair recruiting advantages and, ultimately, unfair competitions. (In a defeat for the college sports industry, Congress has not reached a deal for a national standard through a federal law. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas, at least, have their own statutes taking effect on July 1.)

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The industry’s worries intensified on Monday, when the Supreme Court ruled unanimously against the N.C.A.A. in an antitrust case and appeared to lay legal groundwork for future court challenges to its rules.

In a statement after the court announced its opinion, which did not directly concern name, image and likeness deals, Mark Emmert, the N.C.A.A. president, said the association “remains committed to supporting N.I.L. benefits for student-athletes” and that it was “committed to working with Congress to chart a path forward.”

In a memo to N.C.A.A. members on Wednesday afternoon, first reported by The Athletic, Emmert said the association was working “to develop interim solutions that will fairly allow student-athletes to take advantage of N.I.L. opportunities regardless of the state in which they are enrolled.”

“Our intent,” he added, “is to have these interim measures in place by July 1.” But permanent rules by then, he said, “were unlikely due to the legal environment.”


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