Victory among college athletics has people asking, “what next?”

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After years of controversy about just how “amateur” college athletes are, the fight for their compensation may be coming to an end.

On October 29, the NCAA Board of Governors unanimously voted to, “permit students participating in athletics the opportunity to benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness in a manner consistent with the collegiate model,” according to a press release by the organization.

This long-awaited resolution is quite a victory for everyone involved on the side of the student-athletes. According to the release by the NCAA, the actions the board wants to take can take effect immediately, however they require some guidelines as written by the Board of Governors:

  • Assuring student-athletes are treated similarly to non-athlete students unless a compelling reason exists to differentiate.
  • Maintaining the priorities of education and the collegiate experience to provide opportunities for student-athlete success.
  • Ensuring rules are transparent, focused and enforceable and facilitate fair and balanced competition.
  • Making clear the distinction between collegiate and professional opportunities.
  • Making clear that compensation for athletics performance or participation is impermissible.
  • Reaffirming that student-athletes are students first and not employees of the university.

The board and their “special working group” are continuing to gather feedback and information through April 2020 and have asked all three levels of competition to make their rule changes no later than January 2021, according to the press release.

These principles, although fairly vague, do not seem harmful to the overall agenda of the rule change. However, the Board of Governors seem hesitant to go ahead with the total destruction of amateurism and would like to keep more of a balance.

Universities and the NCAA have been taking advantage of the “amateurism” label of college athletes for decades now, a rule that should no longer apply to athletes. Originating in 1906, the amateurism rule was formulated by the NCAA, then the Intercollegiate Athletics Association (IAA), and was developed throughout the early 1900s as the NCAA gained national rule-making power as a nonprofit institution, based around the protection and the core foundation of amateurism.

In 1951, the head authority of the NCAA, Walter Byers, created the term “student-athlete” to solidify the fact that collegiate athletes are students before athletes. By incorporating this term in college athletics, student-athletes have been bogged down by their label, so much so that they do not make a cent off of their likeness.

When everything is boiled down, it’s hard to give the NCAA much credit for this sudden change. The organization has maintained the same rhetoric for years when it came to how “amateur” student-athletes are. Only now, one month after California Governor Gavin Newsom passed a bill to make it easier for college athletes in California to receive compensation for their likeness while still competing, is the NCAA addressing the issue in a meaningful way. The California law wouldn’t take effect until 2023, but it presents a strong nudge to the NCAA to change its rules sooner rather than later.

If the NCAA is bending slightly to the popular opinion that athletes should be able to cash in, it isn’t because the organization suddenly caught a case of common sense.”

— Jemele Hill

“If the NCAA is bending slightly to the popular opinion that athletes should be able to cash in, it isn’t because the organization suddenly caught a case of common sense. It’s because the NCAA didn’t have a choice,” said Jemele Hill, sports broadcaster and writer for The Atlantic, in her article, “The NCAA Had to Cut Athletes a Better Deal.”

The NCAA seems to have been backed into a corner over the last year. With the new bill in California and impending bills from numerous other states across the country, if the NCAA weren’t acting now, it would be overshadowed by local governments and be forced to compensate athletes anyway.

It is too early to see how the requests from the NCAA will work out in its rule changes, but one thing is for certain: College athletes and people supporting them have finally prevailed.