Do it anyway.
It’s going to be full of mistreatment.
Do it anyway.
It’s going to be expensive at a time when everyone associated with college sports is bleeding money.
Do it anyway.
The NCAA finally comes out – finally! – Castle amateurism and forge ahead with tangible measures to allow compensation for student-athletes. This was the news on Wednesday, when the NCAA leadership announced its adoption of the recommendations of a name, image and likeness task force that worked for a year to begin mining local college sports where she had locked herself. These recommendations are expected to be turned into concrete statute proposals in October for an NCAA membership vote in January 2021 and presumed implementation for the 2021-2022 academic year.
(But no, there will be no return from the video game. It has been shot. Condolences.)
The NCAA has, to use a catchphrase of an hour-long teleconference, “modernized” its position on paid players. Congratulations and everything, but let’s be honest. Whichever way it is worded, it was unintentional.
State lawmakers and miscellaneous prosecutions forced the association to this seismic change in its position forever. Now they hope that Congress will provide a bailout with national legislation that trumps state-by-state bills that would create chaos for an organization that operates on a single set of uniform rules.
However: it does not matter whether modernization is reluctant or voluntary. The fact that this happens is important. The fact that the NCAA is ready to move forward despite an avalanche of side effects, consequences and problems is what counts.“Difficulty doesn’t mean we can’t try,” said Big East commissioner Val Ackerman, co-chair of the NIL task force. It was the quote from the money on Wednesday. This must be the guiding principle of the NCAA while moving this file forward.
Ackerman, Cochair Gene Smith (Ohio State Sporting Director), NCAA President Mark Emmert and Ohio President Michael Drake acknowledged – again and again – that there were a lot of details to work out and that many of these details would be delicate.
How is this not a new gateway to rampant cheating?
How do schools and the NCAA allow boosters to participate in the compensation process without overcompensation?
How do schools and the NCAA prevent something that is supposed to be separate from the recruitment process from becoming a driving force in the recruitment process?
How do schools and the NCAA regulate agents, who will now be invited into the process?
How do schools and the NCAA track who gets what? How many new jobs need to be created at university, conference and national levels to control who gets what? How many new jobs can be created at a time when schools, conferences and the NCAA are cutting staff, taking pay cuts, putting in to prepare for new income shortfalls due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Yes, there are many questions that do not lend themselves to easy answers. But for each potential problem at the micro level, there is a macro answer:
It’s the right thing to do. So do it and deal with the mess as the new system slowly forms, takes root and improves.
Trial and error is part of every major change, and there will certainly be more trial and error with an entity as resistant to change as the NCAA. But the views of our society have changed dramatically about the compensation of university athletes, and it is time to catch up. Continuing to resist is both outdated and fundamentally unfair.
When the university sports landscape was torn apart and rebuilt a decade ago for the sole purpose of maximizing broadcast revenues, it was time to stop viewing it as amateur athletics. The Big Ten, SEC, ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12 have realigned to hurt rivalries and geographic sensitivity – but they made a big bag of money, so why not?
If that were the accepted guiding principle in university sports, it was becoming increasingly untenable to keep income-generating athletes from being part of the for-profit machine. Now is the time to correct this fundamental evil.
Taking some of the perennial payments under the table to players above the table could be a legitimization endeavor. All SEC football players who appear to be driving recent model Dodge Chargers could in fact now be paid to approve local Dodge dealers. The free meals and drinks that are everywhere for athletes in college towns could now be included in compensation for a starback billboard for the popular local restaurant.
And although it’s easy to imagine that this is a boom in energy programs –Alabama boosters can line up miles to get the five-star quarterback to hire Bryce Young as a field man – it might work for the best football players in Boise State and Memphis, or the best VCU or Saint Mary’s basketball players. These programs also have important local boosters and follow-ups.
So it’s time for everyone to embrace what’s coming. Problems and everything, scandals and everything, expenses and everything. The NCAA has been forced to modernize, and that will not mean the death of college sports as we know it.
It could be the birth of fairer and more legitimate university sports. Bring it on.
More SI.com sites:
Trevor Lawrence: the face of the university athlete?
What the NCAA approval changes for Duke would mean
NCAA NIL plan couldn’t come at a better time for LSU