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NCAA President Mark Emmert: Process to Permit Profit from Likeness ‘Slow and Painful’



NEW YORK — The NCAA has started the process of allowing student athletes to be able to profit from their names, images and likenesses, as the governing body announced in November.

But president Mark Emmert didn’t give any further clarity on how the process will play out while speaking at the Learfield IMG College Intercollegiate Athletics Forum on Wednesday.

The forum, presented by Sports Business Journal, included a 30-minute session with the most influential man in college athletics, and the big thing on everyone’s mind is the NCAA’s plan to loosen amateurism restrictions in response to several proposed or passed state laws.

Emmert said the issue will be his No. 1 priority until it’s resolved. He’s spending “75%” of his time on it and the working group even has its own acronym — NIL. But he didn’t reveal any progress toward any concrete plans.

“We need to do more,” Emmert said. “The real question, though is, first of all, how do you do that in a way that does no damage to what already exists.”

That’s the big point of the NCAA’s working group on NIL, but Emmert didn’t have a concrete answer to that question. He did have an answer when it comes to what the NCAA’s constituency has said not to do. The NCAA members are staunchly against paying players as part of an employer-employee relationship. 

“All the leaders in the NCAA have said, ‘We cannot go there,’” Emmert said. “Now schools are going to have to say, ‘If I’m going to have to pay employees rather than have them on scholarship, I’m not going to be able to afford all 16 sports. Which ones will I have to get rid of? It’s not going to be football and basketball. So where do you go to finance all of that?’”

So what does that leave?

It gets complicated, partially as a result of the moving goalposts that the various state laws provide. Some demand direct compensation. Others would allow no direct compensation, but unlimited sponsorships.

The end result of the process needs to be a national standard.

“I don’t think you can have national championships and national competitions without a national solution,” Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney said.

But whether that national solution will be one provided by the NCAA, or one dictated to the NCAA through an act of Congress remains to be seen.

The NCAA has had since October to work things out, but two months later, they don’t have a concrete plan. Some of the potentially conflicting state laws will go into effect before the 2021 school year, meaning quick action is necessary, something the NCAA is not exactly known for.

“We’ve been working on it diligently, but you always have to recognize, when you say the NCAA, you’re talking about 1,100 universities and colleges,” Emmert said. “We operate under a representative decision-making process. I know that’s slow and painful. Drives me crazy sometimes. Drives everybody crazy sometimes.”

So without even an inkling of a plan ready for public disclosure and Emmert’s massaging of the length of time the process has already taken, don’t expect the NCAA to act quickly to grant current student athletes the ability to profit from their likenesses. 

The one thing that seems to be a motivating factor? The threat of Congressional action.

“Nobody wants to turn it over to a governmental entity,” Emmert said. “So if the schools are going to maintain their autonomy and authority over college sports, which I feel strongly is essential to college sports, then we’re going to have a representative decision-making process and that’s, almost by definition, a little slower than we’d like it all be sometimes.”

The NCAA’s message that it started the process of looking into permitting profit from name, image and likeness was intended to quell the growing public outrage on the issue. So if stakeholders want faster action, that’s probably what’s going to be required once again.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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