COMMENTARY

NCAA Name, Image and Likeness Modernization—Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater: A Perspective

Three members of the NCAA Board of Governors working group on Name, Image and Likeness were present and, on an information and listening panel at the recent Women Leaders in College Sport conference.  After that session, I felt compelled to craft my perspective and share with the Board of Governors and the working group as a whole.  I endeavor to be part of a solution, rather than either think that we don’t have a problem or think the problem is insurmountable.  Not surprisingly, I did not hear back from anyone … which is odd since I am both an amateur and a professional in this field.

My perspective is crafted by a professional career as a coach and athletic director over 30 years, at high school and both D1 and D3 members.  My personal accomplishments as a D1 NCAA champion and Olympian figure into my remarks also.  I appreciated that members of the working group shared the  perspective that we should craft an answer that comes from our philosophical stance and organizational values and so, I am sharing those from my perspective as an athlete, educator, administrator, parent and citizen. I recognize how complex this conversation is and encourage and applaud the Board to continue looking at the fundamental values of educational athletics and how we support them through a values based set of rules.

  1. Playing college sports is a privilege, not a right. Individual hard work, gets you were you go in the world.   Acknowledging the range of athletic ability and talent in our membership is fundamental to this conversation.  Equal protection under the law is important and germane to personality laws too, however life is not fair, equal nor are we guaranteed anything in this world. While higher education is a powerful tool in success and we as a society still have much to accomplish from an access standpoint.  Sports is NOT the only method of access to higher education.
  2. What has made college sports great, a uniquely American institution, is its foundation and interwoven connection to the educational process both secondary and higher education. The iterative process of practice, the public laboratory of competition, the collaboration of team, a great teaching/learning environment is the greater good, the internal skill building, not the extrinsic and short lived reward. This connection and the skills that students learn and demonstrate through sports, creates the value and benefit on display at every level and is why there is huge job market bump for scholar athlete graduates. College sports serve both groups of young people who hope to take their sports participation as far as it will allow them.  Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water for the vast majority of students who have a great experience, that is managed in a responsible way.
  3. We should allow students without a bonafide professional minor league to choose to participate in a way that elevates the business model of their talents and abilities, if they choose, there is a marketplace for that. A small subset of football and basketball students may need that marketplace, like minor league baseball and hockey provides for other young people.   Olympic sports need a set of rules that allow for sport specific training and competition and engagement with the Olympic model for those student athletes.  D1 already has a different model from a scholarship standpoint, as does D2, and D3 the talent marketplace is already segmented, the conversation about NIL should likewise be segmented by ability.
  4. There is not a federated answer to this problem, because it is not problem, concern, reality, or even interest, with the vast majority of students in our programs. By example, 150 D3 schools tried to shape a division in their reality of experience and subset of values 12 years ago. A federated vote did not let us.  In part, that group wanted a different subset of rules because of the direction of the larger organization.  It is time to let a different subset of sports, have their own division with rules that make sense to those students and programs.  It is appropriate that the manner in which an amateurism lens is applied to those in our pre-professional sports at D1 is different than those at D3, or any other, where the fundamental value is to integrate student- athletes as undistinguishable from other students.  This is an important difference in that D1 has evolved into a series of special services to support, protect and separate student athletes from the regular student body.  Please let the answer we craft, be for one subset of students, those for whom the marketplace truly is viable.  I am truly worried that we will throw the baby out with the bath water of educational sports.
  5. Let us not for one second think that overblown coaches’ salaries have not contributed, if not driven, this conversation about revenue sharing (through any means possible) for some of our students. Certainly, overblown coaches’ salaries, rules violation excesses, academic fraud and negligence.  Presidents and athletic directors are directly contributing to creating a demand for business model equity by students or their parents because of a lack of institutional control or accountability and the never ending ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ that drives much of the Power 5 members agenda.  The Power 5 agenda is driving an unsustainable appetite that keeps deepening the gap between sports and education. We have gone too far toward the professional and entertainment sports culture with many of these programs. The hypocrisy is ridiculous and evident, that is why legislatures are forcing our hand.  We cultivated the problem every bit as much or more than media rights contracts and rewards did. Now we have to fix it with a more common-sense approach and transparency for the public.

I applaud the Board of Governors for appointing the working group and its focus on NIL. The task at hand is a big one. I encourage us to think broadly about larger issues of purpose and amateurism while we are at it. It is not the task of administrators only. We as parents and citizens need to think about the role of sports in education broadly.  Sports not only teach, but reveal, character. The motivation, not the reward, is the important take away.