Student Athletes Finally Get Their Earning Potential Rights

The NCAA’s annual financial report shows that the athletic departments of the more than 1,100 member schools generated $18.9 billion in revenue in 2019. *

That is a huge number, but it is important to note that college athletic departments are also big spenders.  The NCAA’s financial report shows those same schools spent almost all the money they made—$18.8 billion.

Twenty percent of all the revenue ($3.7 billion) went to coaches’ salaries.  The athletes themselves, the labor in this case, were not paid salaries for their services, but they did receive a significant benefit—$3.6 billion went toward financial aid for student-athletes.

A scholarship and a college degree clearly have value.  However, as the popularity of college sports has exploded and the money for broadcast rights fees and tickets has increased geometrically, the talent has been left out of the equation.

That is now changing… rapidly, and in ways no one yet fully comprehends.  Student athletes can now profit from their name, image and likeness (NIL).  Under pressure, the NCAA has relinquished its stronghold on college athletes that unfairly prevented them from capitalizing on their popularity and their marketing skills.

WVU Athletics Director Shane Lyons is embracing the change, but he wants to ensure the athletes know what they are getting into.

“We want our student athletes to take advantage of this and receive their fair market value,” Lyons said on Talkline last week. “But in the world we live in you have to be cautious about the kind of deals you are striking and making sure you are not being taken advantage of.”

Lyons also makes clear that the University’s name, image and likeness policy aims to prevent cheating by someone offering excessive benefits for NIL or payment when no work is performed.  Every school is going to set that standard, but it may be difficult to enforce.

“We’re going to have some learning bumps and bruises as we go through this,” Lyons said last Thursday. “But at the same time, we are modernizing our rules and regulations with the NCAA and today is a great day for all student athletes across the NCAA sports.”

College sports are steeped in tradition, so change is never easy and often resisted.  We worry that the games we love will be altered in ways that challenge our belief in how they should be organized and played.

But this change is long overdue.  Playing college sports today, for better or for worse, is tantamount to a full-time job.  Yes, scholarship athletes are attending college at no cost, but they have not been allowed to generate outside income, unlike a music student on scholarship who can give lessons or a math student on scholarship who can be paid for tutoring.

In college athletics, all the power and the revenue potential have rested with the institutions and the coaches.  Now some of the power is shifting in the other direction where student athletes have an opportunity to profit from their talents.

*(I used 2019 figures since the 2020 figures were thrown off significantly by the pandemic.)

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