Back in October, the NCAA announced that it had “started a process” to “consider” allowing college athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness.
The announcement, which came on the heels of significant political pressure, came with some caveats. Contrary to how it was initially presented by some media outlets, this concession from the NCAA — potentially allowing its athletes to profit in any way, shape or form — was not set in stone.
The NCAA’s board of governors voted unanimously to direct officials from the NCAA’s three divisions to “immediately consider updates,” but to do so “in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.” Though a promising public-facing stance, it was light on actual details and set “no later than January 2021” as a timeframe to install the impending new rules.
The guidelines the NCAA did include leaned on its long-standing penchant for “amateurism” and focused on things like prioritizing education, “fair play,” and maintaining a “distinction” between “collegiate and professional opportunities.”
“Make clear that compensation for athletics performance or participation is impermissible,” one of the NCAA’s guidelines read. Another read, “Protect the recruiting environment and prohibit inducements to select, remain at, or transfer to a specific institution.”
So how would it all work? The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, a group full of former and current college administrative bigwigs, published a set of principles and recommendations on Monday laying out a vision to potentially make this all come to fruition. The recommendations were sent to NCAA leadership last week.
Knight Commission: College athletes should not benefit from school’s brand
The Knight Commission laid out five “guiding principles” that would allow college athletes to earn compensation “from sources other than their institutions” for the use of their name, image and likeness. And to abide by the NCAA’s insistence on “amateurism,” the principles follow a model with “foundational elements” that distinguish college sports from professional sports: college athletes must be full-time academically eligible students and schools must be prohibited from paying these students for their athletic participation.
The Commission’s recommendations would enable college athletes to pursue NIL opportunities just like any other student and use the assistance of “licensed third-party professionals” (as long as they are not affiliated with the athlete’s university) to best maximize those opportunities.
This would be permitted as long as the compensation earned from the name-brand value of the athlete is separate from the value associated with the university the athlete attends.
The Knight Commission believes that NIL opportunities that stem from a university’s brand would fall under “pay for play.”
“These new rules should focus on allowing college athletes to earn compensation for the value of their name, image and likeness — not the added value the institutions and their conferences might bring to any deals,” said Carol Cartwright, president emeritus at Kent State University and Bowling Green State University. “If institutions and conferences are allowed to add their brand value through the use of logos and trademarks to athlete endorsements and other opportunities, these deals will quickly become forms of pay for play.”
Specifically, trademarks or logos associated with universities or conferences would not be permitted in commercial NIL opportunities for college athletes. However, athletes would be allowed to “identify themselves as a team member or student” of their specific university or conference.
Billy Gruff, Overbridge University’s famous power forward is nicknamed “The G-O-A-T,” short for “Greatest of All Time.” He can enter into a contract with Green Shoes, the school’s shoe and apparel sponsor, to produce and sell a basketball jersey with “The GOAT” on the front, Gruff’s name on the back, and the company’s logo. However, no institution and/or conference trademarks or logos can be used. Thus, the jersey could not be a replica university uniform. Green Shoes could make licensing and royalties payments to Gruff for selling the permissible items.
Gruff can earn pay from Green Shoes, the institution’s shoe and apparel sponsor, explicitly promoting the shoes by appearing in an ad and saying, “I’m Billy Gruff, a basketball player at Overbridge University and I love wearing Green Shoes.” University and/or conference logos or trademarks may not appear at any time in the advertisement and Gruff may not wear apparel that displays Overbridge University or his conference logos or trademarks.
In that example, the athlete could be paid by the shoe company for social media posts as long as the posts did not include university/conference trademarks or logos or images or videos of the athlete in university uniform or apparel.
Additionally, the school would not be permitted to produce and sell products that promote their athlete:
Overbridge University cannot arrange for its apparel sponsor to produce and sell a tshirt that promotes Gruff and gives royalty payments to Gruff because such institutional arrangements are prohibited. The same prohibition exists for the conference in which Overbridge plays.
Under the Knight Commission’s recommendations, universities would be “required” to educate their athletes about their NIL rights and opportunities, as well as “related legal and regulatory issues.”
Not letting NIL opportunities interfere with fairness
A point of emphasis from the Knight Commission was to ensure “fair sports competition.” For example, future NIL opportunities should not be a part of a school’s recruiting pitch to an athlete:
“Rules must be put in place to avoid pay for play, impermissible benefits, and improper recruiting or retention arrangements (e.g., endorsement with a shoe company linked to future enrollment at a specific institution).”
Here’s an example of an arrangement that would be considered improper under the Knight Commission’s guidelines:
As one of the most highly-recruited prospects in the country, Gruff could not accept an endorsement deal from Green Shoes that extends into his collegiate enrollment and requires him to attend a university that has a sponsorship with Green Shoes. Such an arrangement would be deemed an improper recruiting arrangement.
The oversight of NIL rights and rules would be overseen by “an entity led by a board with a majority of independent directors who are not employed by the NCAA or its member institutions.”
Necessary rules, per the Commission, would include reporting requirements, approval framework and a morals clause. The rules would be uniform and “enforceable across all states,” not on a state-by-state or conference-by-conference basis.
The NCAA established a working group last year to examine NIL issues. In October, the NCAA said that group would “continue to gather feedback” through April.
Per the Knight Commission, NCAA NIL meetings are indeed scheduled for later this month. Despite the current challenges facing the NCAA during the coronavirus pandemic, those meetings will take place as originally planned, per the Los Angeles Times.
“The working groups continue to convene very regularly, and we are still on pace to deliver initial recommendations to the full council for its April meeting, which of course will take place virtually,” NCAA Division I Council chair M. Grace Calhoun told the Times.
Additional details would be ironed out for the Board of Governors by August, Calhoun said, with final voting on the rules slated for the NCAA convention in January 2021.
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