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A New Independence Day For College Athletes?

Boston College defensive back Brandon Sebastian with arms spread and a football in one hand.
Josh Morgan/Josh Morgan-USA TODAY Sports
Boston College defensive back Brandon Sebastian. Photo by Josh Morgan USA TODAY Sports via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Though the calendar points to next Sunday as Independence Day, history may mark July 1 as a new date of freedom.

As of this Thursday, American collegiate athletes will be free to do what every other young person, college student or otherwise, has always been able to do.

They’ll be able to make a buck off who they are and what they do as competitors and as people, in the same way other people their age and older do.

As what appears to be a stage on the way to a complete overhaul of intercollegiate sports, so-called student athletes will be able to get endorsements.

To the point, they’ll get to sell the use of their names, images and likenesses to businesses for whatever it will yield on the open market.

You know, the American way?

That ability will be granted to athletes in seven states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas, through laws enacted by those states. Some of those athletes are already reaching out to make deals for the coming year.

Other states are following suit, for fear that schools in their jurisdictions will be placed at a competitive disadvantage. You can be certain that at some point in the not-too-distant future, that opportunity will come to every athlete in every sport.

This rapturous day should have happened years ago. That it didn’t can be laid directly at the feet of the NCAA, the governing body of American college sports.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before – and if you listen to this program you have.

But, while the NCAA has moved its headquarters from Kansas to shimmering buildings in Indianapolis, all constructed on the efforts of these athletes, one thing has never changed: the organization has never tired of keeping college kids from making money.

However, the athletes have, slowly but surely, realized that if their schools are receiving billions in television and licensing fees and their coaches are earning millions in salary, that they’re entitled to something beyond a scholarship.

In a ruling that came down just before this program aired last Monday, the Supreme Court unanimously said just that.

The court ruled that schools could not keep athletes from receiving payments for things like musical instruments or laptops for school work, not to mention compensation for internships.

The ruling did not address the name, image or likeness issue, but it essentially stripped the NCAA of any anti-trust protections in its governance of sports.

NCAA officials have been camped on the doorsteps of Congress for some time now, trying to get a federal stamp of approval to keep on doing what it’s done for over 100 years, but the Supreme Court’s ruling rendered those efforts hollow.

And, while the court’s decision did not directly address the matter of whether athletes should be paid directly for their labors, a concurrent opinion from Justice Brett Kavanaugh made it clear that if and when that matter comes to the court, that barrier, one that has always been held sacred by the NCAA, will fall, too.

There won’t be any fireworks, parades, hot dogs or hamburgers Thursday, but young American athletes will celebrate their freedom and for good reason.

And that’s how I see it for this week. You can reach us via email with your questions and comments at Sports at Large at gmail.com. And follow me on Twitter at Sports at Large.

Until next week, for all of us here, I’m Milton Kent. Thanks for listening and enjoy the games.

Get in touch:

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @SportsAtLarge

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.