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NCAA's Move To Modernize Not All It Seems

By now, you’ve heard that the NCAA finally got wise and agreed to join the 21st century by applying common sense to the way it treats athletes.

The news of the week was that the organization’s Board of Governors had approved a plan to allow athletes to personally profit from the use of their names, images and likenesses, which had heretofore been forbidden.

That’s a nice piece of subterfuge committed by the gang in Indianapolis. To quote ESPN men’s basketball analyst Jay Bilas, the NCAA essentiallygranted wi-fi to student-athletes, but only in Amish areas.

As we’ve documented in this space, California legislators passed a bill that granted student-athletes in the Golden State the right to make money off their images, likenesses and names and protected those athletes from being punished by the NCAA.

That state’s governor, Gavin Newsom, signed the bill into law in September,and the race was on.Legislators in Florida and North Carolina have introduced similar legislation in their respective states.

And a North Carolina congressman has sought to make the matter a federal one by introducing a House bill.

Faced with that kind of momentum, the NCAA did what it does best: obfuscate.

While it appears on the surface that the NCAA did something momentous, what its governing board did instead was to authorize a working group of athletic administrators to gather feedback and study how federal and state legislators are reacting.

In addition, the board gave leadership in each of its three divisions the job of creating new rules by January.

Of 2021.

While saying all the right things, again on a surface level, the NCAA board tucked in language that suggests that they will give on this issue but only as a last resort.

The organization said that any changes must be consistent with "the collegiate model." What many take that to mean is that college athletics must stay within the antiquated idea that a scholarship should be enough for the modern student-athlete.

NCAA officials have consistently said that a pay-for-play model in college sports will not happen.

For the record, granting name, image and likeness rights would not do that, but you’d be crazy to think that 21st century athletes will sit back and see the universities they play for rake in and spend millions and billions and not want a piece of that action.

As a reaction to this talk, Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican senator has introduced a bill threatening to tax the value of athletic scholarships if athletes are granted name, image and likeness rights.

There are a lot of problems with Burr’s idea, chief among them is that if it passed, student-athletes would almost immediately declare themselves as university employees.

That would, in turn, make them possibly eligible to earn workers compensation or, even worse, from the NCAA’s perspective, give them the right to unionize.

With nothing short of the fate of college athletics at stake, the NCAA has to get this name, image and likeness stuff right. There’s nothing in its background that would give you confidence that it will.

And that’s how I see it for this week. 

Audio will be posted by the end of the day. 

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.