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Breaking down the NCAA's move towards Name, Image, Likeness for collegiate athletes

The NCAA working group says they will have a framework by October of 2020, and will vote on the measure no later than January 31st, 2021.

Posted: Apr 29, 2020 6:42 PM
Updated: Apr 29, 2020 7:23 PM

Eugene, Ore. -- The NCAA has continued their march towards allowing collegiate athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness, throwing their support behind a plan that could go into effect ahead of the 2021-2022 athletic year. A January 2021 vote will be the key date in whether or not the proposal moves forward. 

But what does profiting off your name, image and likeness mean?

"It's not playing for play is really important to differentiate," explains Whitney Wagoner, Director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. "In the restrictions of what is being proposed, these payments for name, image and likeness will not come from the school and they will not come from the conference."

Think of it like this: with this new rule, an athlete can endorse products, be a pitch man or woman or even do something like be paid for an autograph signing. But one rather new aspect pushing this change is the presence of social media.

"Social media has created a direct to consumer path that was not as available previously," T. Bettina Cornwell, Academic Director at Warsaw says. "Everything went through broadcast media and through the universities. And so now for a direct consumer, it is this relationship the brands are interested in."

For athletes like Haley Cruse and Sabrina Ionescu, who command large audiences on Twitter, Instagram and Tiktok, the opportunities are nearly endless. A recent study on AthleticDirectorU shows that Ionescu had nearly $251,000 in endorsement potential while Cruse checked in at $115,000. 

The debate about name, image and likeness has been discussed for years, if not decades, but began to pick up steam when California introduced the bill SB206, aimed at allowing athletes to profit off NIL even without clearance from the NCAA. When other states began introducing similar bills to their legislatures, the NCAA decided to take on the task themselves.

"You go out here and you play four years and give everything you have and not everybody has a shot in the NFL," said Troy Dye back in October. The now-former Duck led the team in tackles all four season and was just drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the 2020 NFL Draft. "They should be able to get compensated for the time they put in. It doesn't make sense to have a guy go four years, put his body out there, get hurt, banged up and have nothing to show for it after except for a degree. I think California is doing the right thing. Hopefully the rest of the nation can follow suit."

But there are questions that still need to be answered as the NCAA continues to move forward. Some of the most pressing issues revolve around regulation and how to properly draw lines between where the line between endorsement opportunity and improper benefit is. One of the restrictions put in place by the NCAA working group is boosters may not participate in endorsing or promoting student athletes in this way, which leads to further questions. 

"How do I decide that they're a booster?" Cornwell asks. "If they've given before at 5 dollars or 10 dollars or 5000 dollars? That they went to games and had season tickets? They wear the colors of the team? How do I decide who's a booster and how do they fit into this category that they should not be allowed to sponsor a student athlete."

And while many feel that this could lead to a financial windfall for athletes, some believe that there is an overestimation about how much money will actually be generated. 

"All of this will be determined by market forces," Wagoner says. "What do companies believe the value of engaging with the student athlete is and can they tie that to return for their business. You have to spend the money to create this opportunity and that reduces the top line."

Wagoner believes that at the immediate onset of the rule change, it's very possible that there will be excess spending on athletes for endorsements and autograph signings. But there will eventually be a market correction and some local business owners don't see where the money would even come from. 

"Car dealerships couldn't afford that anyway," Shannon Nill, owner of Guaranty Chevrolet in Junction City says. "That would probably go to regional advertising. But most car dealerships are running thin margins as it is."

While local businesses may be hesitant to throw big sums of money without having concrete data on their return on investment, regional and national brands may be quick to try and invest early in athletes that could stay loyal throughout their careers. 

"There is an opportunity for regional business to be involved early on for a price point they couldn't have imagined for a pro athlete," says Cornwell. 

But while there is a legitimate belief that the balance of power will move into colleges that exist in more populated areas where marketing opportunities may be more plentiful, the reverse could also be true, where smaller places like Eugene and Corvallis could be equally as valuable to a recruit looking for marketing dollars.

"It doesn't matter the size of your media market, if you don't have cultural cache it doesn't matter," explains Wagoner. "A big market doesn't mean opportunity."

But while there are marketing opportunities in smaller, more concentrated markets, Wagoner believes that talent wants to compete more than anything else. Which means that advantages for established brands like Alabama football or Kentucky basketball could reap even more benefits than they already have. 

The NCAA working group says they will have a framework by October of 2020, and will vote on the measure no later than January 31st, 2021.

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