Last Tuesday, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) announced a shift in policy which will allow college athletes to earn revenue from the use of their likenesses.
The change was unanimously passed by the NCAA Board of Governors, but it’s a move that’s long been backed by many. This year, California passed a law that allowed student-athletes to acquire agents to represent them in earning revenue, which was set to go into effect in 2023. While many other states sought to pass similar legislation, high-profile politicians like Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) have also pushed against NCAA limitations, telling the association, “We’re coming for you,” just weeks before its reversal.
While the policy change is effective immediately, each tier of collegiate athletics will have to determine how they will handle the new rules. To give time to the divisions to make these decisions, the NCAA stated that they’ll have until January 2021 to implement the new policy. This means that current freshmen and sophomore college athletes will likely see the new policy influence their careers. The careers of past college athletes, however, have already seen harm from the NCAA’s previous rules.
Donald De La Haye was a star football player and junior at the University of Central Florida in 2017 when the NCAA forced him into an ultimatum: stop making money off Youtube videos related to his athletics, or abandon his full scholarship. La Haye chose to continue producing monetized sports videos, but he could not afford tuition and had to leave college entirely. He’s since been hired by the company Whistle Sports and continues to make profit off the video content he creates, but not all players have been so fortunate. Should the NCAA have kept their rules as they were in 2017, there’s no telling how many more college athletes would have to face similarly difficult choices in their career, and how many already lost their chance to play professionally.
Still, the move comes with some concerns. Although Binghamton University isn’t the largest sports university by any means, it remains a Division I school where student-athletes have gone pro in the past. It’s unclear if the new NCAA policy will mean that we’ll see more students graduate into professional leagues like Ben Anderson did when he was drafted by the Texas Rangers as a pitcher this summer. The ability to generate revenue may incentivize — if not prioritize — sports over academics, more than they already are. There are eligibility requirements such as the NCAA’s GPA standards, which mandate that first-year college athletes need to maintain a GPA average of 90 percent of the minimum to graduate. But at BU, that’s a 1.8 GPA — just a C-minus letter grade average. While these standards are meant to keep student-athletes engaged in the academic side of their lives, it may prove too little to counter the financial benefits of putting more focus into the sport.
Even Romney, despite his previous comment on the NCAA, expressed concern over how the rule will be implemented going forward. Other politicians, like Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), responded more incisively, calling for college athletes who “cash in” on the NCAA ruling to see their scholarships be taxed as income. While we recognize the merits to Romney’s suggestion of an unstable and imbalanced college athletics system, Burr’s idea of punishing athletes for their hard-earned revenue is simply wrong. Moreover, their income would already be taxed according to state and federal laws.
BU men’s basketball head coach Tommy Dempsey touched on the nuanced approach needed in the new wild west of college athletes and their new avenue for revenue in a press conference on Oct. 31. Dempsey expressed support for the NCAA’s ruling, saying, “I think it’s great.” However, he also acknowledged that he doesn’t “have the answer” to “how it’s going to play out,” simply stating that “our job is to provide the best experience we can for our players.”
The NCAA’s change in policy will finally end the all too common university practice of exploiting the hard work of student-athletes to make a profit, but the new policy isn’t without its own issues. The Editorial Board supports the NCAA’s decision, but cautions against its potential to leverage athleticism over academic performance. The balance between being a student and an athlete is a difficult one — here’s to hoping the new policy won’t make it any harder.