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NCAA On Verge Of 21st Century Thinking

Willis Lam via Flickr

Almost since Sports at Large premiered here 18 years ago, we’ve consistently hammered the NCAA for its clumsy handling of collegiate sports. 

And why not? The self-appointed arbiters of amateur athletics have proven themselves, time and again, to be targets of scorn and ridicule with their ham-handed treatment of the people they claim to protect.

And to paraphrase M*A*S*H’s Hawkeye Pierce, when you invite abuse, it would be impolite not to accept. 

So when the gang from Indianapolis finally gets one right, it seems only fair to point that out, too. 


Last week, the organization’s Board of Governors announced support of legislation that would open the door for college athletes to make money off their own names, images and likenesses. 

That means that a student who plays football, tennis or bowling could do what a well-known musician or science or business student can already do, namely use the notoriety they’ve achieved to earn cash while still being able to do what they do as college students.

Specifically, these athletes will be able to sell their autographs, endorse products and say, create their own podcasts or video games and get paid.

Seems simple, doesn’t it? Yet, for over a century, the men who run the NCAA have held on to the quaint and silly notion that athletes who are compensated for their athletic endeavors with anything other than scholarships are tainted with that taint spoiling the whole process.

Well, here we are in 2020, with multiple revenue streams available to all participants, from NCAA member schools and conferences that pocket billions in television and licensing fees or coaches who earn in the millions.

Everybody makes a buck at dear State U. Everybody except for the ones that make the entire thing possible.

As we chronicled here recently, the NCAA is facing seismic changes, as young people who previously seemed to have no choices are stepping around the college process and seeking their own fortunes without contributing to someone else’s largess. 

Three top-flight high school basketball players are skipping a year of college and going to the NBA’s developmental league where they could earn in the mid six-figures. That drumbeat will only grow steadier and steadier.

Given that continuing prospect, the NCAA has no choice but to move into the 21st century, albeit two decades late.

Of course, the NCAA being the anachronistic monolith that it’s always been, the organization is holding on to the last vestiges of amateurism, if it can.

The proposal before the NCAA, which has to clear the three divisions, would prohibit athletes from using university or conference logos or trademarks to promote themselves. 

The students could not receive help or guidance from the schools in deciding what to endorse and they could not get any direct payment from the schools. 

As the old proverb goes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. The proposal before the NCAA is a single step, but a necessary one. It’s long overdue, but we should give the NCAA credit for taking it. 

And that’s how I see it for this week. Thanks for listening and enjoy the games…whenever they return.


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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.