Tuesday’s missive from the NCAA concerning its change of heart on compensating student-athletes for their names, images and likenesses was one thing above all else — inevitable.
It might ... might ... have been able to stand its ground if California remained an outlier in passing legislation to compensate student-athletes. Then Florida announced it would follow suit and a bunch of other states jumped in as well.
Look, if California and Florida say they’re going to do this, it’s over. No state in America wants to be among the few that refuses to follow their lead. Any state that would might as well shutter their college athletic programs. At some point, this goes nationwide and the NCAA can’t stop that train, no matter how much it wants to try.
That letter the NCAA Board of Governors sent to California Gov. Gavin Newsom threatening to ban Golden State schools from participating in NCAA contests? Really? Freeze out Southern Cal, UCLA and Stanford? Jeopardize the Rose Bowl? Not gonna happen. And don’t even think about threatening Florida, a state home to some of the nation’s biggest athletic programs and eight bowl games.
If there’s one thing the ivory tower in Indianapolis doesn’t like, it’s other people telling it what to do. If the NCAA sat there and let all those states enact their own NIL legislation, that’s exactly what would happen. The only solution was to get out in front of this as much as possible.
So now what? The NCAA Board of Governors told Divisions I, II and III to start updating their bylaws and have something in place by January 2021. But what next?
Most folks I’ve talked to are taking a wait-and-see approach, mainly because they know the plans for this new landscape will take many forms before they’re put into action. In just a few minutes of conversation, so many questions popped up.
So how will this work, anyway? Will athletic departments be able to go into the booster communities and line up patrons to match with student-athletes? Some schools have more deep-pocketed super donors than others.
OK, so you tell the universities they can’t set up the compensation, the kids have to seek it themselves. Then you run the risk of further empowering agents in college athletics, which most athletic programs don’t want.
If universities can set up the compensation, what happens when the line to help the football team stretches around the block and there’s no one interested in helping the softball team? That’s a Title IX lawsuit waiting to happen.
And what becomes of the recruiting process? Do the days of Corvettes miraculously appearing in high school seniors’ parking lots make a return? At least now, everything would be above board and documented. And, honestly, student-athletes choosing the highest bidder already happens, both under the table (looking at you, NCAA programs under FBI investigation) and above (these schools aren’t building palatial football and basketball facilities just for kicks and giggles; if an indoor waterfall and sleep pods at every locker attract more five-star players, then they’ll keep sprouting up).
All these questions popped up in just a few minutes’ worth of conversations. Those alone are enough to make one’s head spin. How many more questions will arise once the NCAA digs deeper into the matter?
If I’d give the NCAA any advice (as if it would take it) it would be this: When you update the bylaws, look at what the state governments are considering and craft those updates to look more like what they want than what you want. The NCAA likely will go into this exercise trying to protect its own interests as much as possible. That line of thinking has been its problem for years. Thumbing its nose at the states’ proposals is picking a fight, and that’s not a fight the NCAA would win.
That makes getting this right the first time the most important task on the association’s plate until January 2021 — and they should be working on it until 11:59:59 on Dec. 31, 2020 to make sure it does.