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NCAA Athletes And Money


Colleges and coaches make millions of dollars from the play of student athletes. The athletes have not. At least, not until now. The NCAA board of governors unanimously voted yesterday that college athletes can profit from marketing their own names and images. The college sports governing body was under pressure after California passed a law letting student athletes make money. Kavitha Davidson is a reporter for The Athletic and co-hosts the podcast "The Lead," and she is on the line. Good morning.

KAVITHA DAVIDSON: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

INSKEEP: How much pressure was the NCAA under?

DAVIDSON: Well, the NCAA really was on a lot of pressure. As you mentioned, California had just passed a bill earlier this month granting what's known as nil rights to college athletes. That's the right to profit off of their names, images and likenesses. And we actually had California Governor Gavin Newsom on our podcast to talk about this. And he said that one of his stated goals was to put pressure on the NCAA to handle this as a whole themselves.

Now, other states, like Ohio and Florida, had been exploring similar bills. Senator Cory Booker, who we have on the podcast today, actually, proposed a plan as part of his presidential platform that would bring this issue under federal law. And in May, as a response to these various legislative proposals that have been popping up, the NCAA ordered its board of governors to form a commission to study this, and the recommendation from this group led to yesterday's announcement from the NCAA.

INSKEEP: I guess we can imagine the classic political situation that people sometimes face. They have a step they maybe don't want to take. They're on their way to being forced to take it, and so they decide to take it so that they can at least set the rules and control the conditions. And in this case, they make this statement that it's allowing athletes to profit from their names and images. I guess that doesn't mean they can get paid athletes' salaries, right?

DAVIDSON: Well, they don't get paid athletes' salaries. They're very clear that this does not mean college athletes become employees. It's not pay for play. None of the payments would come from the university. They would come from outside businesses. But we also to be really careful here because what the NCAA announced yesterday was not an actual new policy. It was that they are ordering this commission that they formed to further study this, and then by the deadline of April of next year, the three divisions - division one, two and three - then have to formulate new policies themselves by January of 2021.

All of this comes with a major caveat. Like you said, you know, in politics, if you want to formulate a new rule like this, it's better to do it yourself so you can kind of impose your own conditions. The conditions here - you know, the NCAA stressed that these policies has to be, quote, "consistent with the collegiate model" and that they must align with NCAA principles, which, you know, depending on how the NCAA interprets that could really radically limit the scope of any new policies they actually institute.

INSKEEP: Well, granting the pressure the NCAA was under, is there anybody expressing sadness in a way, that they regret the passing of the idea of the amateur athlete, the ideal of that?

DAVIDSON: I mean, people always kind of bring that up. You always talk to college coaches who kind of benefit from this system, especially with, you know, the salaries that they're being paid in the big business of college basketball and college football. And they kind of lament that you would lose the purity of the game. But, you know, if you're asking my opinion on that, I think that, you know, competitive balance has already kind of been under attack. There really isn't so much purity in what is a multibillion-dollar industry.

So I think that what people are kind of arguing right now against that is that college athletes should be able to make money in an outside job, whether that's signing autographs or having someone pay them for their jerseys, the way that other students on campus are able to.

INSKEEP: Kavitha Davidson of The Athletic and co-host of the podcast "The Lead." Thanks for this.

DAVIDSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.