NCAA softens stance on paying student-athletes

The NCAA's Board of Governors open to allowing student-athletes compensation for their name, likeness

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By JERRY NOWICKI

Capitol News Illinois

SPRINGFIELD — On the same day a bill allowing college student-athletes to profit from the use of their name or likeness passed an Illinois House committee Tuesday, the governing body that oversees most collegiate athletics took steps toward allowing such activity at a national level.

The vote by the NCAA Board of Governors came just hours after state Rep. Emanuel "Chris" Welch, D-Hillside, passed his House Bill 3904 through the House Higher Education Appropriations Committee by a 9-6 vote on partisan lines.

At the committee, Welch said the efforts of California, which passed a similar bill into law earlier this year, Illinois and at least 10 other states helped put pressure on the NCAA, a membership organization for intercollegiate athletics.

"Until this happened, they weren't listening. Now they will," Welch said of the NCAA.

His bill would allow student-athletes to be paid for the use of their name and likeness and would prohibit the NCAA from punishing students who take part in the payment or the universities they attend. It would not allow for payment of salaries by universities.

According to an afternoon news release from the NCAA, its board directed each of the NCAA's three divisions to "immediately consider updates to relevant bylaws and policies for the 21st century." It is not yet clear how or when those changes will be implemented, however.

The board asked each division to create any new rules no later than January 2021, per the news release.

The board's chair is Michael V. Drake, who is also president of Ohio State University.

"We must embrace change to provide the best possible experience for college athletes," Drake said in the release. "Additional flexibility in this area can and must continue to support college sports as a part of higher education. This modernization for the future is a natural extension of the numerous steps NCAA members have taken in recent years to improve support for student-athletes, including full cost of attendance and guaranteed scholarships."

In his committee hearing, Welch reiterated arguments he made at a news conference Monday, saying the bill was about fairness, equity and leveling the recruiting playing field with California after the passage of its law.  Both the Illinois bill and the California law would take effect in 2023.

The NCAA board's action was based on recommendations from a state legislation working group, which will continue to gather feedback through April, the news release said.

The Illinois committee's six Republican members voted against Welch's bill Tuesday amid opposition from a number of athletic directors from universities across the state.

Those officials included the athletic directors from the universities of Bradley, DePaul, Eastern Illinois, Illinois State, Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Illinois Springfield, Loyola, Northern Illinois, Northwestern, Southern Illinois and Southern Illinois Edwardsville.

"We share the sponsors' interest in supporting the welfare of student-athletes, but we find this bill to be harmful in the short term and, in the end, unnecessary," the athletic directors said in the letter.

They said the bill "offers no protection from financial exploitation" of student-athletes by sponsors, marketing firms or sports agents.

Welch's bill allows students to hire agents and requires the agents to be registered with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.

The athletic directors also said they favor a national approach by the NCAA, which had not been announced by the time their letter was sent. They also encouraged the General Assembly to postpone discussion of the bill until the regular legislative session which begins next year.

Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, state Sen. Elgie Sims Jr., D-Chicago, and Welch issued a joint statement on the decision.

"It's clear that student-athletes deserve to have rights in a billion-dollar industry they helped build. After advocating for our legislation in Illinois, the NCAA took a welcome — though overdue — step forward to allow students to be compensated for their names and likenesses," they said in the statement. "We remain committed to being the voice of student-athletes in Illinois and will monitor this decision to ensure it is fully implemented. Today is a victory for student-athletes around the country who are fighting for fairness and equity, and we will continue to fight alongside you."

Also Tuesday, Welch introduced a companion measure, House Bill 3941, to provide greater regulation of athlete agents and require them to obtain a state license.

CONTACT: michael@vfpress.news 

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