Student Athletes: Moving into the new era of NCAA regulations in image rights exploitation

Student Athletes: Moving into the new era of NCAA regulations in image rights exploitation

By Lazaros Ioannou, APC Sports Consulting Ltd

At a meeting which took place within the last days of April 2020, the Board of Governors of NCAA supported rule changes to allow student-athletes to receive compensation for third-party endorsements both related to and separate from athletics. It also supports compensation for other student-athlete opportunities, such as social media, businesses they have started and personal appearances within the guiding principles originally outlined by the board in October.

As per the issued recommendations, student – athletes will be able to receive remuneration in relation to the following:

  • Third-party endorsements, such as promoting a product or service on television, radio or in advertisements
  • Social media influencing, such as modeling or promoting a product or service in exchange for samples or compensation.
  • Their own work product or business activities, including digital content creation (podcasts, YouTube videos, , paywalls, etc.), utilization of talents (athletic lessons), music, art, etc.
  • Personal promotions like autograph signings or meet and greets

Although that there will be no cap on endorsement earnings for athletes in place, it should be mentioned that there are some limitations imposed in the form of enhanced regulation within certain sectors, such as shoe and apparel brands.

It should also be noted that student athletes will not be allowed to use trademarks and logos of schools. As stated at the official announcement issued by the NCAA ‘’While student-athletes would be permitted to identify themselves by sport and school, the use of conference and school logos, trademarks or other involvement would not be allowed. The board emphasized that at no point should a university or college pay student-athletes for name, image and likeness activities.’’

The board directed all three divisions to consider appropriate rule changes based on recommendations from its Federal and State Legislation Working Group.  The board’s recommendations now will move to the rule-making structure in each of the NCAA’s three divisions for further consideration. The divisions are expected to adopt new name, image and likeness rules by January 2021 to take effect at the start of the 2021-22 academic year.

The board is requiring guardrails around any future name, image and likeness activities. These would include no name, image and likeness activities that would be considered pay for play; no school or conference involvement; no use of name, image and likeness for recruiting by schools or boosters; and the regulation of agents and advisors.

NCAA insists that the changes will need to be adopted in a manner that will be consistent with the collegiate model. Therefore, any changes adopted by the divisions must be in concert with the following principles and guidelines:

  • Ensuring student-athletes are treated similarly to nonathlete students unless a compelling reason exists to differentiate. 
  • Maintaining the priorities of education and the collegiate experience to provide opportunities for student-athlete success. 
  • Ensuring rules are transparent, focused and enforceable, and facilitating fair and balanced competition. 
  • Making clear the distinction between collegiate and professional opportunities. 
  • Making clear that compensation for athletics performance or participation is impermissible. 
  • Reaffirming that student-athletes are students first and not employees of the university. 
  • Enhancing principles of diversity, inclusion and gender equality. 
  • Protecting the recruiting environment and prohibiting inducements to select, remain at or transfer to a specific institution.

The board also discussed the potential challenges to modernizing rules posed by outside legal and legislative factors that could significantly undermine the NCAA’s ability to take meaningful action. As a result, it will engage Congress to take steps that include the following:

  • Ensuring federal preemption over state name, image and likeness laws.
  • Establishing a “safe harbor” for the Association to provide protection against lawsuits filed for name, image and likeness rules.
  • Safeguarding the nonemployment status of student-athletes.
  • Maintaining the distinction between college athletes and professional athletes.
  • Upholding the NCAA’s values, including diversity, inclusion and gender equity.

There are still a lot of questions to be answered and lots of upcoming developments are anticipated until the finalization and enactment of the relevant regulations.  We feel that this is a step forward for both the NCAA and student athletes and it is a cornerstone for a fair and equitable treatment when it comes to exploiting student-athlete image rights! 

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