The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Don’t be fooled by empty rhetoric: The NCAA isn’t going to change voluntarily

The NCAA has announced it would consider rules changes that would allow college athletes “the opportunity to benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness in a manner consistent with the collegiate model,” though questions remain. (Eric Gay/AP)

The NCAA’s latest move is all wind and stall. It’s nothing more than an attempt to slow the landslide, one that will bury the current leaders to the point of extinction. Look closely at the NCAA’s supposed grand concession to allow college athletes the rights over their own names and likenesses, and note that it contains zero specifics, an almost infinite number of potential restrictions, and doesn’t actually say anything about money. It’s the organization’s classic signature, that blowhardy nothingness.

The exact wording of the NCAA board of governors’ announcement is the giveaway. Each NCAA division is directed to “consider updates to relevant bylaws and policies for the 21st century” that would eventually allow athletes to “benefit” from their own names and images, so long as they do so “in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.” What on earth do all those soft words mean? Here’s what they don’t mean: anything imminent. Or concrete. Or real. What they do mean is that the NCAA is in a panic over a raft of legislation that would make their current piratical rules illegal.

As matters stand, the NCAA denies athletes their natural economic rights, and hijacks their names, images and likenesses for financial gain. Ohio State’s Chase Young is a star who may not sign his own autograph for money or endorse a Columbus car dealership. Rather, the money generated by his talent, celebrity and image will continue to go to pay the $600,000 salary for some mid-level associate athletic director and other cronies.

NCAA softens on allowing college athletes to be paid, but provides few specifics

What member of a university marching band is told that they must not profit from the trumpet so long as they’re at the university? What member of a school orchestra is told they better not play their violin for money, or they’ll lose the right to perform? What young actress or actor is told they can’t appear in a play or a film for pay, at peril of being labeled “dirty” and a “cheat?” The NCAA has fundamentally violated the rights of scores of athletes by forcing them into a separate and unequal class of citizens. So, the NCAA’s announcement that it has “started the process” to “enhance” athletes’ ability to own what never should have been taken from them in the first place is not cause for congratulation.

Look closely at the NCAA’s verbiage and you will find buried in it some key phrases that show just how desperate its leaders are to delay, and to hang on to its ravening economic system. “Compensation” for anything related to “athletics performance” will still be “impermissible” — for everyone except seven-figure athletic directors, of course. Athletes will be able to benefit only from “collegiate” rather than “professional” opportunities — whatever that means. Question: Does a lemonade stands count as collegiate or professional?

In other words, the NCAA still will forbid athletes from actually making any money — unless it’s such a small and paltry amount of loose change that it’s not worth bothering over.

“The board’s action today creates a path to enhance opportunities for student-athletes while ensuring they compete against students and not professionals,” NCAA President Mark Emmert droned.

Create a path? The path was already there, created by legislators because the NCAA was so recalcitrant on this issue. California passed the Fair Pay to Play Act in September over the NCAA’s baying protest, and Florida is right on its heels. California’s law, set to take effect in 2023, would prohibit schools from punishing athletes for exercising their basic commercial rights. A dozen other states are considering similar laws. Then there is the federal measure proposed by Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) that would strip the NCAA of its tax-exempt status if it continues to restrict the use of an athlete’s name, image and likeness. Walker is trying to get the bill to a vote so it can take effect next year.

The NCAA is not trying to open a path for athletes, it’s trying to kick dirt over one.

California law doesn’t take from the NCAA. It keeps athletes from getting robbed.

The only reason the board of governors took this vote was because their position is utterly unsustainable. It’s simply a bid to appease lawmakers, and try to regain the reins of the rule-change process before they are legislated out of existence in their current form.

It would be purely a mistake to allow this manipulation to work. Lawmakers should keep the pressure on the NCAA, and hard, because unrelenting legal force is the only thing that revenue-bloated body has ever responded to.

Let up now, and the NCAA will spend years upon years holding “working groups,” which will issue “recommendations,” which will result in “proposals,” which will then be referred to subcommittees. And the only thing that will come from any of it is more buzzwordy blather about “models.” Meantime, the rake-off will continue and the kids who sweat to generate all the money will watch vainly as they are robbed of their natural rights over their own names, as well as the true value of their scholarship.

The NCAA has had years to make rules that genuinely benefit their “student-athletes.” They have refused, except at the point of a legal threat. What we need now are laws.