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A New Look NCAA Could Mirror NFL, NBA, MLB And Other Pro Sports

The Super Bowl has become the NFL’s biggest money maker(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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The NCAA world of college athletics is in a state of upheaval when it comes to the rights of student athletes. The Supreme Court’s ruling against the NCAA in the O’Bannon case opened the door for athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness (NIL) and called into question any restrictions on student athletes profiting in ways beyond NIL.

At the heart of this restriction is the NCAA’s rule against “pay for play” which means that student athletes cannot be offered any form of compensation or benefit for attending an NCAA school or university. This has implications both for athletes signing letters of intent as well as using the “transfer portal” to change schools. The rule is simple. Student athletes can’t accept money for playing their sport even though the athlete’s participation in that sport is precisely what the NCAA is profiting from. I have written about how boosters of schools have formed “collectives” which are designed to ensure robust NIL benefits for students athletes attending that school and that these collectives have been accused of covertly using NIL as their disguise for what amounts to “pay for play”.

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So far the NCAA’s response is to warn or even sanction member schools that violate the pay for play rules. However, they have been loathed to punish student athletes for fear of legal action.

There are already states initiating legislation that would require student athletes to be paid for their services by the school, eliminating the NCAA’s pay for play prohibition. There are also student athlete lawsuits in process seeking to declare that these athletes are actually employees of the school and should not only be compensated but would be eligible for collective bargaining if they chose to unionize. The NLRB agrees.

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So far the NCAA has pleaded with Congress to enact legislation defining NIL and protecting in some way the NCAA’s current prohibition against “pay for play”. This proposed solution would still subjugate athletes to the NCAA’s limitations on these student athletes participating in the revenues generated by college sports.

FRISCO, TX – JANUARY 08: The National Champion game is the NCAA’s super bowl (Photo by C. Morgan … [+] Engel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

NCAA Photos via Getty Images

The better approach would be for the NCAA to act aggressively and proactively set themselves up as a league in partnership with the student athletes in a manner modeled after how the NFL, NBA and MLB operate. They could still regulate member schools and determine the terms and conditions of how member schools can sign players. The NCAA could even encourage a student athlete union where a standardized athlete contract could be negotiated (like a scholarship with dollars attached). This would eliminate the transfer portal and trading of players among member schools could be allowed under certain terms and conditions.

This is overly simplified and lots of details need to be worked out. But it is the only path forward that can truly resolve the thorny issues and injustice that has existed and continues to surface. All of the lawsuits seeking student athlete rights would stop and the NLRB would get off the NCAA’s back. Moreover, the NCAA could restore law and order in a way that is transparent, transformative and addresses the just cause of student athletes that are essential in driving revenue in the college sports business. If it hopes to future proof itself, the NCAA needs to take this type of drastic measure.

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