Feb 2021

What’s in a Name? Maybe a lot of Money for NCAA Athletes

For years the National Collegiate Association of Athletics has placed restrictions on student-athletes and how they can earn money. Schools and alumni can’t pay athletes without facing sanctions, but college athletes, long considered amateurs, also can’t earn money from advertising or endorsement deals. At the same time, colleges and universities sell merchandise and tickets using players’ names, images, and likenesses (NIL), garnering millions of dollars each year. In 2017, ESPN reported that the NCAA had more than a billion dollars in revenue for the 2016-2017 season, and that doesn’t even account for the money schools make. NCAA rules prohibited students from sharing a piece of that pie.

Now, the NCAA rules on students and how they can profit from their NIL is about to change. While the NCAA hasn’t yet finalized the legislation, the draft indicates that student-athletes may use their NIL to:

  • Develop businesses and participate in business activities, including giving private lessons and creating camps and clinics,
  • Endorse products through appearances and commercials,
  • Participate in and receive compensation for autograph sessions, as long as it’s not during a school-sponsored event, and
  • Profit from crowdfunding to raise money for nonprofits, family hardships, and educational experiences.

The NCAA will prohibit athletes from using school logos, names, trademarks, colors, or identifying information in these NIL activities. Student-athletes just can’t use their school, or anything identified with their school, while making money through NIL activities.

The NCAA will still prohibit student-athletes from:

  • Receiving compensation for things that conflict with existing school sponsorships and a school’s institutional values, or
  • Profit from NIL activities that involve a product or service that conflicts with current NCAA rules or legislation, like gambling or sports betting.

To be clear, schools won’t be allowed to directly pay a student-athlete to use their name, image, and likeness, which still seems fundamentally unfair. But once the new legislation is in place, the world will change for many student-athletes. While some people worry about “professionalizing” the world of college sports, these changes will go a long way to undoing some basic unfairness that college student-athletes have faced for decades.

If you need guidance on intellectual property or sports and entertainment law, contact Carrie Ward at 856-354-7700 or email her at cward@earpcohn.com.