NCAA makes interesting decision to address moving target of name, image and likeness

USATSI

The NCAA doesn't do much of anything earth-shaking without being forced -- by the courts, by legal threats.  

Consider the earth shaken just a bit on Tuesday.

The nation's most influential amateur organization threw open a door to altering the foundational amateur status that has propped it up for more than a century.

On paper, it read like another a wordy press release: The NCAA has formed a working group to study name, image and likeness rights for college athletes. You know, the aspects of humanity that belong to us the moment we are born.

Except, until recently, the NCAA has guarded those name, image and likeness rights of its athletes like a bulldog guards a bone. In other words, those athletes didn't own the rights to their own accomplishments.

Barry Sanders' highlights sold Buicks. Johnny Manziel's name on the back of a jersey sold apparel. The result of the players' sweat itself -- the games -- sold corporate sponsors on advertising with the NCAA.

Tuesday's announcement merely hints the NCAA may consider sharing with the players' their rightful piece of those earnings.

How much -- or even how -- wasn't addressed. In fact, the NCAA went out of its way to say no money would change hands as it would not provide "payment for participation in college sports."

But it's progress. Be advised the pressure is being felt in Indianapolis to fairly compensate players for their labors. A final report is due in October.

At least the NCAA was honest about its motivation. The association admitted in its release that recent legislation in California and North Carolina had perhaps forced its hand.

Those bills would allow players in those states to be paid directly for their name, image and likeness. A 2013 Drexel University study stated the fair market value for the average college football player was $137,000, almost $300,000 for a basketball player.

You can see why the NCAA might want to get its arms around this issue -- perhaps partner with the players on a licensing deal -- because the alternative (continuing a protracted legal battle) could lead to the end of the NCAA itself.

Do the math on $300,000 x 13 men's scholarship basketball players ($3.9 million). While some high majors might be able to afford the hit, it would mostly cripple the membership.

No one is saying there will be anything close to that. But there continues to be significant evidence the NCAA must once again adjust its byzantine rules or perish.

A few years ago, the much-heralded cost of attendance -- paying players a monthly stipend -- would have landed violators in NCAA jail.

A case can be made that the transfer portal was established in October 2018 because of legal concerns. Coaches can leave for another job without penalty, so why couldn't players leave for another school (without their coach's permission)?

This latest maneuver can rightly be interpreted as adjusting the definition of amateurism enough to stay out of court.

Twice since 2014, the NCAA has been held in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Essentially, the courts decided it was a monopoly. The results of violations didn't mortally wound the NCAA, but they sure as hell got the association's attention.

The working group is forming slightly more than two months after the Alston decision. The result of that trial fell short of free-market compensation sought by the plaintiffs but cracked open that door enough for more player compensation that the NCAA appealed. In her decision, Judge Claudia Wilken scolded the NCAA. She cited many of the current benefits players receive from the association already equal "pay for play."

So what -- she intimated -- is the NCAA arguing about?

In the celebrated O'Bannon trial, the NCAA was cited for illegal restraint of trade. Former UCLA forward Ed O'Bannon fought the association after his image appeared on a video game he never profited from.

Condoleezza Rice seemed to foreshadow this day last spring. As chair of the Commission on College Basketball, the former Secretary of State said, " … most commissioners believe that the rules on name, image, and likeness should be taken up as soon as the legal framework is established. It is hard for the public, and frankly for me, to understand what can be allowed within the college model. For the life of me I don't understand the difference between Olympic payments and participation in 'Dancing with the Stars.'"

That TV appearance by Notre Dame women's basketball player Arike Ogunbowale might have been the tipping point for a lot of folks. The NCAA ruled Ogunbowale could not only dance with the stars but receive prize money. Her dancing ability was unrelated to her "basketball abilities," the NCAA said.

Yeah but follow the logic: Ogunbowale's name, image and likeness as a basketball player got her noticed so she could be paid.

"I'd bet that [the NCAA will] recommend the creation of an NIL clearinghouse that will unilaterally determine the value of athletes … and serve as a pseudo-agent to the athletes in negotiating any agreement," said Ricky Volante, CEO of the Historical Basketball League.

The HBL, which launches in summer 2020, plans to compensate players based on their fair market value.

Volante added that, because the new working group is populated with the usual suspects of college administrators, it is in their best interest to keep the status quo.

"The real goal here is to find the absolute smallest sliver of the pie they can give up without giving the players actual rights," he said. "Once again we see that, at its core, amateurism is a con."

Con or not, the earth did shake around the NCAA if only a bit. At least in some small way on Tuesday, the NCAA stayed out front of the courts. The moving target that is amateurism continues to, well, move. 

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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