For sports fans of Washington, Washington State, Gonzaga and the rest of the state’s schools immersed in highly competitive big-time college sports, word came Monday that they won’t be left behind as the NCAA’s once-formidable empire falls into decay.
In the absence of state legislation permitting third-party payments to college athletes for use of their names, images and likenesses (NIL), schools in the state of Washington and more than 30 other states learned they can join their quicker competitors Thursday at the start of the massive convulsion.
The NCAA is suspending temporarily its rules on amateurism for all schools.
The maneuver had been expected after at least six states voted to start the new world July 1, creating potentially huge recruiting advantages that could include six-figure incomes for a handful of star athletes. But the NCAA, struck helpless by a U.S. Supreme Court decision last week, and limited by the inability of Congress to create a new structure by the July 1 deadline, had only one tool to curb the onslaught — creation of a single starting line.
In other words, all schools Thursday are free to manipulate the system to the level of the most egregious abusers. If they don’t, they lose the recruiting races. It’s like, well, capitalism.
What happened Monday was the NCAA Division I Council, the day-to-day policy-making group, recommended that the cartel suspend amateurism rules, according to a story in USA Today. The recommendation will be voted on Wednesday by the Division I Board of Directors, which has no realistic option but to approve, one day ahead of July 1. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine Monday signed an executive order making his state the 10th to start Thursday.
In a statement released Monday by the NCAA, schools in states without NIL laws and/or their conferences “may choose to adopt their own policies” regarding NIL activities. Read: You’re on your own.
However, the policy would leave intact the cartel’s “commitment to avoid” pay-for-play and improper inducements tied to choosing to attend a particular school.
The keys in that statement are the choices of verbs: “May choose” and “commitment to avoid.”
Those words are nowhere close to “Thou shalt not,” and other Old Testament-style admonitions that supposedly constrained athletic departments in recruiting for more than a century. Punishments for violations were infrequently invoked, of course, but always gave cover for generations of school presidents, athletics directors and coaches to reward themselves and their programs at the expense of athletes who were forbidden to be paid to play.
In light of its 9-0 loss in the Supreme Court regarding Alston vs. NCAA, the schools dare not repeat behavior that lawyers for athletes will claim violates the intent of the verdict, even though the justices did not specifically address NIL, only “education-related benefits” for scholarship recipients. But it did open a door that can never be closed.
Basically, the new marketplace “freedom” is like giving the town drunk the keys to his own jail cell. He can do whatever he wants, as long as he sleeps it off in the graybar hotel because it looks proper.
As the changes pertain to UW, WSU and the rest of the state and Pac-12 Conference, very little of the events of the past week should come as a surprise to any of the administrations. The NIL outcome has been inevitable since the NCAA in 2014 lost an anti-trust lawsuit by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon for failing to compensate him for the use of his NIL.
Lawyers and athletics departments have been plotting for this eventuality by preparing to staff up for administration and compliance, and attempting to answer questions from businesses, agents, parents and athletes about what constitutes “fair market value” for an athlete’s autograph, appearance at events, product endorsements and influence on social media.
As one UW official told me a few months ago, “We will be ready.”
With the liberalization of transfer rules, including within conferences, high school seniors increasingly will make their choices of schools on the best financial deal, with factors such as education, coaches, campus facilities, competition, geography and sports legacy all tied for last. If after a year a better offer emerges, players can transfer once without penalty.
The only mitigation may come from Congress, which has been invited into the discussion by NCAA officials who basically admit that a solution is way over their heads. Among many options, Congress is considering a federal oversight panel independent of the NCAA to moderate compliance and arbitrate what is considered fair market value for various offers to players. Not to mention adding a slug of new, overdue regulations regarding athletes’ health.
If all of that sounds anywhere from daunting to scary, you’re tracking well. Because Congress will eventually pass a law with many layers that look only a little like the mayhem that launches Thursday.
This how things turn out when 50 years worth of calls for substantive reform were ignored, gutted or mocked. The house has been afire for a long time, and suddenly college sports gets to drink only from the fire hose.