Since the beginning of organized college athletics, everyone has gotten paid but the athletes. It remained the norm as everyone got rich, except the athletes, on whose back the money was won.

After years of pressure, and NCAA stubborn resistance, it appears the rules are about to change.

The NCAA last fall said it would allow players to “benefit” from the use of their name, image and likeness and is working on new rules it plans to reveal in April.

Yes, just a month before this landmark announcement, the NCAA Board of Governors had released a statement saying that allowing these same kind of payments to college athletes would actually gravely undermine the idea of a fair playing field.

What changed?

The decision follows California’s adoption of a law that bans schools in the state from preventing student-athletes from accepting compensation from advertisers and allows them to obtain endorsements and agents. CA Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the legislation in September, calling it the “beginning of a national movement.”

Indeed, it did spark a trend. Politicians in Illinois, New York, Florida and other states have introduced bills allowing endorsement deals for college athletes. This week, even the Kansas Senate jumped in the mix, holding a hearing to receive input on how the state can develop a plan that allows student athletes to receive at least some compensation.

At least half of the states in the country are now similarly considering athletic compensation plans.

These plans do not propose putting athletes on college payrolls, but the NCAA is going to permit college athletes to make money off the use of the name or likeness and generally profit from their fame on the playing field.

California’s law goes into effect in 2023. However, other states could grant those rights to athletes as soon as this year.

Congress Stepping in

In order to maintain uniform standards in college sports, Congress has stepped in and is looking to pass an overarching federal law. 

Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate held its first ever hearing on the issue.

To address the issue, the NCAA has created a working group that represents students, coaches and athletic directors, among others, to create rules by April with the expectation that legislation will go into effect in January.

Lawmakers warned the organization to not drag its feet.

“We’ve got a situation where states are moving forward and we need to address the issue,” said Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MI), the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee.

The NCAA’s concern, echoed by Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, who also testified Tuesday, is that endorsement deals for athletes would have a negative effect on recruiting, with schools and boosters in states with athlete-friendly laws using money to entice players to sign with certain schools.

“If implemented, these laws would give some schools an unfair recruiting advantage and open the door to sponsorship arrangements being used as a recruiting inducement. This would create a huge imbalance among schools and could lead to corruption in the recruiting process,” said NCAA President Mark Emmert. “We may need Congress’ support in helping maintain uniform standards in college sports.”

Sen. Jerry Moran, (R-KS) the chairman of the Subcommittee on Manufacturing, Trade, and Consumer Protection, said he was not inclined to act until after the NCAA reveals its new rules.

“The next step is to see what the NCAA is capable of presenting to us in April.” Moran said.

NCAA critics believe there is plenty of evidence that recruiting is already corrupt — pointing in part to the federal criminal case involving shoe companies paying basketball players to attend schools they sponsor — and that letting players earn endorsement money won’t create the major problems the NCAA predicts.

Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players’ Association, which advocates for athletes’ rights, said under current NCAA rules, 99.3% of top-100 football recruits choose teams from the Power Five conferences.

“The power conferences have advantages and they consistently pull the best recruits,” Huma said. “They will continue to get the recruits. The reality is, you’re not going to change the recruiting by limiting the players’ opportunities.”

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