Scoggins: College athletes should get paid for use of their name, image or likeness


Laurence Maroney had not been keeping up on the NCAA’s glacial steps in embracing something long overdue, but the former Gophers star running back enjoyed the CliffsNotes version relayed to him this week.

So, Laurence, by fall of 2021, college athletes will be able to earn money doing endorsements for companies. They will be able to get paid to appear in commercials or on billboards. Or profit off their social media accounts. Or turn autograph signings into cash in hand.

“Wow, wow,” Maroney said. “Can I come back?”

Sorry, do-overs aren’t allowed, but the NCAA finally, albeit reluctantly, agreed to “modernize” its archaic rule book in what was hailed as a landmark moment last week.

The NCAA’s Board of Governors announced support for a plan that would allow athletes to be compensated based on their names, images and likenesses (NIL). A January vote is expected to make it official.

Make no mistake, the NCAA didn’t want to go down this path. The organization eventually caved to pressure after individual states proposed legislation that would allow athletes to profit from NIL.

The NCAA’s plan lacked specific details and looked more like a rough outline that leaned on buzzwords such as “guardrails.” The governing body has a lot of questions to answer before this becomes reality for the 2021-22 school year. But the main point is clear: College athletes finally will get what they deserve.

Here’s how it could work:

If a local company wants Gophers receiver Rashod Bateman to pitch a product, he can get paid for it. If a company wants to pay All-America softball pitcher Amber Fiser to advertise on her social media account or make an appearance, show her the money.

Former Gophers wrestler Joel Bauman quit competition in 2013 after the NCAA ruled that he could not profit off his name as an aspiring music artist. It was ridiculous that the NCAA forced him to make a choice. Thankfully, athletes won’t be put in that position anymore.

It comes down to basic fairness. If every other student on campus can earn money doing those exact same things, why shouldn’t athletes be afforded the same opportunity?

The NCAA expressed concern about NIL being used as a recruiting tool and unscrupulous booster influence. News flash: That will happen. And guess what? Those outside influences happened before NIL, too. It will be nearly impossible to separate boosters and recruiting from a process that enables athletes to capitalize on their talent.

Unintended consequences undoubtedly will spring up, but allowing athletes to benefit from their names and images in a way that can be monitored by compliance offices (not an easy task, admittedly) will not become a boogeyman that ruins college sports.

“Even though I was on a full-ride scholarship, I didn’t have much money,” Maroney said. “If I was making $10,000 or $5,000, think about how much money I could have sent home to my family and my mom to pay her bills and make sure she’s straight.”

The NCAA said there will be no cap on earnings but also noted that compensation must be fair market value. Who’s to say what a fair market would have looked like for, say, Zion Williamson during his one season at Duke? If a company offered to pay him $100,000 to endorse a product, would the NCAA deem that excessive? If so, why? Based on what? The distinction between free market and rogue booster influence could become difficult to sanction. Realistically, third-party deals will be available to only a handful of athletes on campus. Endorsement opportunities are not in endless supply. The most likely avenue for athletes to earn money will be through social media, a digital frontier that is still hard for some of us old folks to comprehend. Athletes with large social media audiences bring value to marketers through engagement. Jim Cavale, CEO of a social media app called INFLCR that helps colleges and athletes build their brand, estimates that high-profile college athletes potentially can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars in this platform.

“That’s the reality of influencer marketing on social media,” he said.

Cavale said many factors determine an athlete’s social media value, but this concept of influencing opens a door to income opportunities that didn’t exist previously. A YouTube channel or loyal TikTok following could become a side business for college athletes now.

The NCAA finally is willing to let that happen. Better late than never.

 

chip.scoggins@startribune.com

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