WHEN THE U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously last month that the NCAA cannot limit the education-related benefits colleges offer their top athletes, it was as though a tectonic plate had shifted in the college sports world.
Frankly, this should have happened a long time ago. Athletes who bring in billions of dollars for their colleges and universities should be able to personally benefit from their efforts on the field, in the pool or in the gym.
Less than two weeks after the high court’s decision, the NCAA’s board of directors approved rule changes that will allow nearly half a million student athletes to earn money from sponsorships, endorsements and personal appearances—referred to as “name, image and likeness” opportunities or NIL—without endangering their college eligibility or violating the NCAA’s amateurism requirements.
Some well-known student athletes have already signed outside NIL deals. More will follow.
Colleges are also now free to offer athletes computers, paid study-abroad programs, paid internships and other financial perks in addition to scholarships, although the high court did not rule on whether student athletes can be paid actual salaries.
Competing in college sports, especially at the Division 1 level, requires a high level of skill and commitment in addition to many hours of intense training. Those hours make it all but impossible for students to work part-time while attending classes full-time. But the archaic NCAA rules forbade them from using their athletic talents to help pay for their education, which has become more expensive over the years, and related expenses.
Colleges and universities reaped the benefits by profiting off their student athletes’ NILs without, for the most part, sharing the largesse with the very people who helped raise those massive amounts of money.
The NCAA fought the changes, arguing that its limits on compensation, including scholarships, were necessary to preserve college sports’ tradition of amateurism. But Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote that “traditions alone cannot justify the NCAA’s decision to build a massive money-raising enterprise on the backs of student athletes who are not fairly compensated” for their efforts.
It’s highly doubtful that fans of the Cavaliers or Hokies will stop going to games or watching them on television because the players are receiving education-related benefits. In fact, ticket sales and viewership may actually increase when people understand that their money is going for that purpose instead of increasing staff salaries or redecorating the faculty lounge.
Colleges and universities that relied on their student athletes’ uncompensated efforts will just have to make some minor adjustments to their budgets. But don’t feel too sorry for them.
In 2019, the amount of sports-generated revenue among all athletic departments affiliated with the NCAA totaled $18.9 billion. That coincided with a 28 percent increase in undergraduate tuition, fees, room and board at state universities, and a 19 percent increase at private nonprofit institutions of higher learning during the 2018-19 academic year. These double-digit cost escalations greatly exceeded the 1.8 percent inflation rate that year.