College football players returned to work on June 1, 2020, a few months after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lost TV rights and ticket sales threatened programmes’ bottom lines. George Floyd’s murder sparked racial justice protests around the country.
This unique era in history created a perfect storm that fueled athletes to become involved and vocal in collegiate athletics.
This week, CBS Sports celebrates the first anniversary of athletes’ name, image, and likeness rights with a three-part series on college football’s state and future.
National College Players Association general director Ramogi Huma called the last two years “pivotal.” “College football players are crucial to this market; it’s big business.”
Huma founded the NCPA after witnessing abuses at UCLA. One player was punished for a complete game after receiving groceries from an agent. Another had trouble paying medical fees following a summer injury. (NCAA legislation at the time banned schools from paying such costs.)
Since the U.S. Supreme Court determined in NCAA v. Alston last June that name, image, and likeness limitations violate antitrust law, progress toward enhanced athlete rights has accelerated. Since NIL took effect, college athletes have profited financially and gained a better grasp of their value.
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Stanford wide receiver Elijah Higgins: “It occurred so fast and there was so much pressure.” “Players knew their rights. Players realised how much was at stake. Players realised it was terrible not to be able to utilise their name, image, and likeness.
The entrance of NIL has opened the floodgates for players to address various issues, including the still-young transfer portal and even younger one-time transfer exemption.
NIL, along with mysterious booster-run collectives, raises issues about athletes’ long-term relationships with their schools.
Leading antitrust attorney Jeffrey Kessler remarked, “They could give players more voice and opportunities.” “Congress is considering a bill to unionise state school athletes. Otherwise, state schools get the most revenue. Now, they’re unstoppable. It’s an obstacle.
Nine months ago, NLRB general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo said revenue-producing athletes at private schools should be deemed employees, allowing them to unionise. The memo only affects the 18 private FBS schools, but it signals a friendlier NLRB approach if a team tries to unionise, as Northwestern did in 2015.
Tim Nevius, a player advocacy attorney, said it opens the door for college athletes to collectively negotiate. This lets athletes become employees and organise a union.
The NCAA contested the NLRB’s conclusions, arguing players are amateur students in a glorified educational experience. This question will be tested in five years. If replies are like practically every NCAA court case in the past decade, players have a chance.
Huma: “[Employment] doesn’t change what players are to colleges.” It confirms nature.
As employees, athletes have many legal protections. Players could create unions and collectively bargain. Revenue sharing, overtime compensation, and safety rules could result.
Sporting officials are hesitant to call athletes employees. Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff termed the proposal “existential” to college sports.
“If you develop an employment framework, other players will lose their degrees. Kliavokoff: “They’ll lose the flexibility to play where they want.” “We’ll have a draught system: Players can be traded or fired.”
While Kliavkoff’s position is valid, big programmes already use scholarship athletes. USC coach Lincoln Riley has used a little-known regulation to eliminate 10 scholarship players from his 85-man counter.
Conversely, player employment could improve player movement and compensation. Schools could provide buyouts or options contracts. They could also require players to stay in college. These are typical sports contracts.
Unintended effects are inevitable when large public schools start asking about pay.
“There are things that have shouted out for flexibility for a while,” said outgoing Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby. “But we shouldn’t think about adding another layer of professional sports because that’s not what higher education is about.” Higher education would likely oppose this.
Whether it’s unions, job status, or the College Athlete Bill of Rights proposed by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) in 2020, change is quick.
“This is crucial,” Huma said. “Lawmakers, the media, government agencies, and lawyers are listening now. In 2010, it was different. Previously, many people supported the NCAA.
“NCAA is alone now.”
Huma prioritises player safety over NIL and player money. As competition increases, he sees the next few years as crucial for athletes. A collective voice or Congressional action would let players get their say.
Proactive college programmes can anticipate athlete demands. Player participation will likely rise.
UCLA AD Martin Jarmond envisions players mobilising for group licencing in 2-3 years.
Jarmond indicated revenue sharing was a possibility. “That’s likely.”
Jarmond considered using athletes in advertising. He recommended publicising Jaime Jaquez Jr.’s autograph at a low-attended game.
Jarmond: “It should be a cooperation.”
This timetable could be hastened if EA Sports restarts “NCAA Football” in 2023. Players’ names, photos, and likenesses will likely be used in the game.
NCAA laws didn’t allow revenue sharing, hence “NCAA Football” was cancelled in 2014. Athletes could be appeased by common-sense reforms, group licencing, and collective bargaining.
Gabe Feldman, a Tulane sports law professor, says decent treatment of athletes reduces the temptation to want more. “Athletes with more rights need a union less.”
Unlike professional athletes, college football players are itinerant. Many players leave after just three years of eligibility.
Players rarely have more than 1-2 years of maximal impact as leaders on and off the floor, yet Phoenix Suns point guard Chris Paul spent 8 years as NBAPA president.
NCPA and other groups have long-term ambitions to advance players’ rights. Those in the NIL space disagree that players are motivated purely by short-term advantages.
Miami mega-booster John Ruiz has signed more than 100 athletes to NIL deals in South Florida. “These youngsters and their families aren’t after money. They want information, stability, and networking. They want to play for 2-3 years and advance their careers.
As college football consolidates and TV income soars, arguing that $100 million-a-year institutions are amateur becomes harder.
The NCAA is rebuilding its constitution through the NCAA Division I Transformation Committee as it weighs the repercussions of this new environment.
If the NCAA doesn’t act quickly, the organisation may be transformed.
All-Pac 12 pass catcher Higgins: “Those who gain from [the system] won’t change.” People who are affected, care about the issue, or understand it and wish to address it must fight for change.