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NCAA Moves To Allow College Athletes To Profit


What do you know? We have some non-pandemic news this morning. College athletes are closer to getting paid. An NCAA panel cleared the way for athletes to be compensated for their, quote, "name, image and likeness." Those would include endorsements and sponsorship deals and other activities related to their athletic skills. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman has been covering this slow-moving story, which suddenly moved forward. Hi there, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: (Laughter) Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: How would this plan work?

GOLDMAN: Well, the NCAA board of governors has approved this set of recommendations it calls an important step forward. And the recommendations include - you alluded to some of them - athletes can be paid for third-party endorsements, meaning between the athletes and a business or some endeavor outside the athlete's school or conference. Athletes can make money through social media platforms - like Instagram, Twitter, for instance - by doing appearances or performances and then posting them on those platforms. Also they would be able to make money for personal appearances and creating new businesses.

INSKEEP: But I suppose the college athlete cannot demand a salary from the university, say?

GOLDMAN: Certainly cannot, no. And, you know, on an NCAA conference call with reporters this morning, the term guardrails was used repeatedly, which is, I think, you're alluding to, limitations. The NCAA, while it says it's moving forward into a new reality, it's very nervous about this whole concept of athlete compensation, worried about what it calls a slippery slope toward pay-for-play, which has - excuse me - always been forbidden in college.

So some of these guardrails include no direct pay from a university to an athlete. No use of a name, image and likeness for recruiting by schools or boosters and agents and advisers. And those recommendations do allow for athletes to sign with agents. But there would be limitations. It would - agents could be used to help them set up marketing and business opportunities, but not finding them pro sports opportunities while the athlete's in college.

INSKEEP: Tom, if the NCAA is nervous, as you say, and if they're so nervous they're trying to put up all these guardrails, why did they finally move to act at all?

GOLDMAN: You know, the NCAA is definitely aware of the drumbeat of change out there. As you probably know, states, led by California, began passing bills to pay athletes for the use of their name, image and likeness. And today, the - one of the authors of the California bill, which led the way, had this to say. Nancy Skinner from Berkley, a Democrat from Berkeley, she said the NCAA has taken a step in the right direction. College athletes are on their way to making money off their name, image and likeness just like all other Americans can.

She calls it a landmark change. But despite her words, the NCAA is still opposed to state laws like hers. And it will ask Congress to create federal legislation superseding the state laws in order to create a national uniform approach. Otherwise, the NCAA says, it could give universities in certain states a leg up on recruiting if you had this kind of patchwork approach. That's the NCAA's concern, at least.

INSKEEP: What's the next step here?

GOLDMAN: Well, each of the NCAA's divisions - Division 1, 2 and 3 - are expected to approve new rules about name, image and likeness by January. And they would begin in the 2021 academic year.

INSKEEP: Well, hopefully you will also be able to market your name, image and likeness at some point, Tom, because, you know...

GOLDMAN: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: ...You've been a sports correspondent for a long time - widely respected, of course.

GOLDMAN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: I left you speechless, didn't I? NPR's Tom Goldman. Thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.
Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.