Payment Terms

NCAA, conferences and college leaders try to come to terms with NIL turning into pay-for-play

Star college players like Alabama quarterback Bryce Young have nearly limitless opportunities to capitalize in the NIL era, raising concerns about when deals actually pay off.Images: getty

JThat’s the state of college athletics these days: The NCAA renewed its stance against pay-for-play in its new constitution earlier this month, while its Division I leaders continue to explore a range of payment models for the game.

Does that sound counter-intuitive to you? In the past, college leaders have said for years that they oppose anything resembling pay-for-play, pay-for-performance, or pay-for-enrolment, but the gap between what defines name, image and likeness and pay-for-play is diminishing as schools become more aggressive in their use of NIL, especially on the recruiting front.

And it has led to questions about a future in college sports that could include collectively negotiated pay with players and employee rights.

“We just passed a constitution that says we’re not a fee-paying organization,” said a senior university leader. “Meanwhile, behind the curtain, all we’re doing is making this game pay.

“We’re not ahead of this thing right now; it is in front of us.

In what appears to be the most reframed year in college athletics, the NCAA has already rewritten its constitution, formed a transformation committee to bring about further changes in Division I, and laid the groundwork for its own restructuring.

emmertImages: getty

A radical change is not only expected, it is imminent; everyone agrees.

NIL is only seven months old. It lives in a constant state of flux, with donor-run collectives at many colleges being the latest example of creating payment arrangements for players. It remains to be seen to what extent NIL and pay-for-play will be specifically addressed by the Transformation Committee over the next six months. There is no mandate for the committee to tackle NIL, but it is clearly one of the most compelling topics and fertile ground for change.

Leaders at the highest level of the NCAA Division I Board of Directors have already engaged in “what if” studies on payment for gambling so that they are ready if legal and political environments compel sports academics in this direction.

NCAA President Mark Emmert said the new constitution is intended to provide greater flexibility for Division I and its conferences to determine what benefits athletes should have and define what payment for play means. But that doesn’t cede any ground on one of the NCAA’s tenets — the school itself can’t pay players directly.

“It’s very clear to me and I think anyone involved that what’s happening in NIL space is very different from the spirit of NIL when it was first discussed,” Emmert told Sports Business. Newspaper. “A lot of people are worried about it, they’re confused about it and anxious about what it’s going to mean.”

Facing the headwinds of more legal challenges, a lack of congressional involvement, and a seemingly out-of-control NIL ecosystem, the NCAA continues to consider a new course that could change the relationship between schools and athletes.

Tom McMillen, CEO of Lead1, the association of FBS athletic directors, said the kind of change that allows conferences to make their own decisions could be beneficial in deciding the future of fee-for-service.

“Fee-for-service is the big elephant in the room,” McMillen said, “but some flexibility from the conference could lead to quasi-collective bargaining. It could become decentralized if you have more autonomy of conference.

Emmert continues to beat the drum for Congress to provide a single national standard for NIL so that all Division I schools follow the same rules in the interest of competitive fairness. He concedes that it is difficult to get their attention at the start of an election year.

“It’s a fine balance, and it can’t last very long,” Emmert said. “If members don’t act, others on the legal and political front will. It’s much better for us to decide our own future. That said, we need Congress to work with us to change the legal environment. We have multiple models across the country and no one provides a state-level application. They don’t enforce their own laws.

A word with… NCAA President Mark Emmert

On NIL: “We’ve only been in a NIL world for six months, but it opened up that world. And with the current legal environment, the association is also in a place where our regulatory abilities are reduced from where the members and I wanted to go with the proposals we had to regulate it. So we’ve seen an acceleration of concern around all of this, and I certainly share that.

On collegiality: “It’s tense, but we can’t put all that at the feet of Oklahoma and Texas. It was a move that accelerated that process. Likewise, I have seen incredible collegiality in the meetings of the Constitution Committee. They didn’t always agree; in fact, they fought like crazy, but in a respectful and professional manner.

On the impending changes: “People understand what’s at stake here, and they’re committed to making sure college sports don’t explode. They know, in general, what they need to do to get there. But there is a tension between institutional self-interest and conference self-interest and the greater good. You have to recognize that and balance it in this environment of much heightened anxiety and competition, and that is happening. in NIL space, there is no doubt.

Emmert has heard similar criticism that the NCAA does not enforce its own interim NIL rules, which simply say that athletes cannot be compensated for their performance or for entry, and that the athlete must provide a service to be paid for. .

The NCAA is still working with certain schools — it wouldn’t name them, but Miami (Fla.), Oregon and BYU have been cited in news reports — to gather information about their NIL programs and ensure they operate in the state laws and NCAA interim guidelines.

“We’re gathering as much information as possible to determine what those relationships are on the ground,” Emmert said. “We know the business model that exists, the collective model. It’s become a cottage industry in this space, to say the least. But you need to have good, clear data to know if student-athletes are offering anything of value in return for their NIL payments. People are pretty sophisticated about it.

As the 21-person Transformation Committee contemplates its charge to change Division I, issues such as the subdivision of schools in Division I; automatic qualifier status for the NCAA playoffs; and health and safety initiatives for athletes are already on the agenda. NIL does not, at least not yet.

“If we want to build a model that will work for the future, we have to be responsive to the issues of the day,” said Ohio athletic director Julie Cromer, who co-chairs the committee. “I have the impression that we will have to prepare for some problems of the hour. We’ll see where it goes over the next six months. Things have definitely changed a lot in the past six months.