The NCAA must allow student-athletes to use their name, image and likeness, opening the door for players to profit while in school, under new federal legislation proposed by a member of Republican House leadership.
The bill, to be introduced by Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina next week, would amend the definition of a qualified amateur sports organization in the tax code to remove the restriction on student-athletes using or being compensated for use of their name, image and likeness.
“Signing on with a university, if you’re a student-athlete, should not be (a) moratorium on your rights as an individual. This is the time and the moment to be able to push back and defend the rights of these young adults,” said Walker, a former college athlete and vice chair of the Republican conference.
Walker, a third-term congressman from Greensboro, called on the NCAA to change its rules in May, saying at that time that legislation could follow. Now he plans to bring forward the Student-Athlete Equity Act.
Walker’s bill introduction will happen just days before the start of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. CBS and Turner Sports are in the middle of a 22-year, $19.6 billion television contract, which includes an eight-year, $8.8 billion extension signed in 2016, to broadcast the event through 2032.
“They’ve had time to have their meetings,” Walker said. “Here’s the thing: We’re not asking the university, we’re not asking the NCAA to pay a single dollar into this. You’ve done your part offering a full scholarship. Just don’t restrict the rest of it.”
Walker said he is open to considering possible NCAA restrictions or guidelines, but not the current blanket policy. Walker has met with the representatives of the NCAA.
Cites ‘free market system’
The NCAA has made several large enhancements to student-athlete welfare in recent years, but it has fought against any proposal that would allow players to be paid above the cost of attending college — either in salary or stipend from the universities or in endorsement or service contracts from outside entities.
“Allowing student-athletes to endorse commercial products would undermine the efforts of both the NCAA and its member schools to protect against the “commercial exploitation” of student-athletes,” Judge Claudia Wilken wrote in her 2014 decision in the O’Bannon v. NCAA case which challenged the rules prohibiting players from receiving compensation for use of their name, image and likeness.
But Walker said the current set-up is denying athletes — 99.4 percent of whom, he is fond of saying, won’t collect a paycheck from a professional sports organization — a chance to monetize their talents.
“It’s just odd that in our free market system that this is the one area where we say, ‘No. We’ll let you make money for the university, but you can’t have any access to your name or likeness,’” he said. “This is an earning opportunity for 99 percent of these student athletes who will never have another access to do something like this. It’s in that moment that your earning opportunity is prime.”
Ralston Turner, who played basketball at LSU and N.C. State, pointed to college stars like Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and former LSU football player Tyrann Mathieu — and the amount of money made selling jerseys and shirts with their numbers or likeness.
“Take the NCAA out of it: If somebody is using your likeness, you can have access to some of that,” Turner, who played two seasons in the NBA’s G-League and now works for Merrill Lynch in Alabama, said in a phone interview Wednesday. “If somebody was doing something to make money off your likeness, you would want some of it.”
Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski said last year that he’d like to see younger players be able to profit off their talents before they reach college. Current Duke star Zion Williamson, for example, had developed an enormous following based on videos of his high school dunks, but he was prohibited from profiting from it in any way, lest he risk his NCAA eligibility.
“Make sure that the kid and his family are afforded the opportunity to max out like anyone else in our country what talent will give you,” Krzyzewski said during the NCAA Tournament.
A former University of Central Florida kicker was ruled ineligible for making advertising money off his YouTube videos.
Kansas basketball coach Bill Self said so many entities are trying to make money off the “big, big business“ of amateur athletics that the current model needs to change.
“You could make an honest case that the student-athletes obviously are the ones that create the money but really receive very little of it. I think there will be an adjustment,” Self said during last year’s NCAA Tournament.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who chaired a commission on college basketball, has endorsed allowing players to profit from their name, image and likeness. She, like Walker, wants the NCAA to set the parameters. The NCAA is unlikely to act until Wilken offers a decision in Alston v. NCAA, which challenges the NCAA’s limits on what a scholarship can include.
Walker played soccer, basketball and baseball at Trinity College in Jacksonville, Fla. He did not have a scholarship.
An avid Alabama football (he was born in Dothan, Ala.) and Duke basketball fan (he moved to North Carolina in 1991, the year Duke claimed its first basketball title under Krzyzewski), Walker has discussed his bill with several former players, including former Duke basketball star and current ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas, an outspoken critic of the current system.
In 2016, the NCAA moved seven college championships that were scheduled to be played in North Carolina, including two rounds of the men’s basketball tournament, in retaliation for the state’s passage of House Bill 2, which critics said was discriminatory toward LGBT people. Walker, a former Baptist pastor, said at the time of the move that the NCAA were “elitists who are attempting to extort and embarrass North Carolina for defending its citizens.”
The law has been partially repealed, and the NCAA has returned events to the state.