11. January 2021

  • Dan Murphy

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  • Adam Rittenberg

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    • College football reporter.
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    • Graduated from Northwestern University.

The NCAA will not meet the deadline for updating the rules governing how athletes can exercise their advertising rights during their academic careers, as the Division I Board of Directors decided to indefinitely postpone voting on the proposed rule changes until Monday.

The Board of Governors, which is the penultimate step in the NCAA rule-making process, decided it needed more information before voting on a proposal that would allow athletes to accept money for their name, likeness and image (NIL). They also postponed a vote that would have relaxed rules for transferring athletes in some of the federation’s most popular sports – notably football and basketball.

The board remains firmly committed to modernizing Division I rules in a way that benefits all student-athletes, said Penn State Athletic Director and board chair Grace Calhoun in a statement. Unfortunately, external factors require this pause and the Council will use this time to improve the proposals.

While some members had suggested a delay a few weeks ago, one source said the momentum gathered momentum last weekend after the head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division sent a letter to NCAA officials warning them that rule changes could drag them deeper into murky legal waters.

The NCAA announced it still planned to vote on the NIL and transfer proposals, but sources said there was no discussion of a revised decision schedule at Monday’s meeting.

We will adopt the NIL and deregulate transfers. It’s going to happen, according to a source. We just need to gather more information, especially from the Department of Justice.

The NCAA Board of Governors – the last group to vote on the rule changes – announced more than a year ago that all three NCAA divisions must change their policies governing how athletes can sell their name, image and image rights. At the time of that decision, in October 2019, the Commission indicated that each department would be required to adopt new rules by January 2021.

The 2019 board decision was prompted by pressure from state legislators, who passed laws banning NCAA policies related to children’s rights to education in their states. Last year, the pressure continued to mount as more and more states drafted or passed similar laws and members of Congress debated whether to pass a federal law. NCAA President Mark Emmert and other university sports leaders have asked for the federal government’s help in creating a uniform national law that both creates consistency and regulates the future market for athlete aid.

Florida would be the first state to adopt the law on January 1. July. Nebraska’s law could also go into effect this year if schools in that state decide to use it. If state laws take effect before the NCAA changes its rules, or before Congress passes a national law, they could cause the legal problems or unequal benefits for recruiting that Emmert and others have talked about, creating chaos.

Ramogie Huma, founder of the National Association of College Players and a longtime advocate of strengthening the rights of college athletes, called Monday’s decision a slap in the face. He urged more states to move forward with legislation that would allow gamblers to make money from endorsements.

Varsity athletes deserve to be treated fairly now, and they need lawmakers to give them those freedoms once and for all, Huma said.

The panel studying the issue proposed a change to the NIL rule last October. These changes would allow athletes to exercise their NIL rights in a variety of ways, but would also impose certain restrictions and still give a third party the power to regulate transactions.

NCAA officials say the regulations are needed to ensure endorsement deals don’t become a thinly disguised way for sponsors to pay large sums of money to recruit or retain athletes. Last week, outgoing deputy attorney general Makan Delrahim wrote a letter saying, among other things, that trying to limit an athlete’s ability to get endorsements could be considered a violation of antitrust law. The letter also notes that some of the proposed restrictions in the new transfer policy could also pose problems for the NCAA.

At Monday’s meeting, Emmert told council members he had read the letter when it appeared in the media last Friday. He told the New York Times this weekend that the letter put an end to last-minute proceedings before the vote on two proposals this week.

Emmert, as well as NCAA General Counsel Donald Remy, spoke at Monday’s meeting. They told the virtual participants that it would be wise to wait to vote until they could discuss the impact of the new rules with Justice Department officials.

The current antitrust chief is not expected to remain in office when President-elect Joe Biden takes office later this month. NCAA officials may also decide to await the outcome of the Supreme Court decision, which is expected to address some of the NCAA’s amateurism policies in the first half of the year.

Proposals have been made for a new NIL and transfer program to come into effect before the start of the 2021-22 academic year.

 

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