Column: Wild and Wylie

On Oct. 29, the National Collegiate Athletic Association announced a unanimous decision to start the process of allowing name, image and likeness opportunities for student-athletes. But, as is typical with this institution, the devil is in the details.

The organization makes clear in the statement they will only consider these types of opportunities “in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.” Mark Emmert, the NCAA president, emphasized they want to give athletes opportunities, “while ensuring they compete against students and not professionals.”

The NCAA passed up an opportunity to be proactive and virtuous on Tuesday, instead settling for their typical method of reactionary, self-preserving damage control.

Critics of the NCAA objected to absence of real change for student-athletes because of this decision. Jay Bilas, former Duke basketball star and current ESPN analyst tweeted, “(what it’s REALLY saying): We shall strive to allow athletes the right to name, image and likeness opportunities, but only in a manner that does not allow them to monetize their name, image and likeness opportunities.”

A much more equitable and comprehensive plan was proposed by Cory Booker, the 2020 presidential candidate. Booker announced the “Justice and Opportunity for Athletes” on his website, which included recommendations and improvements for youth, college and professional sports.

As a college football player for Stanford University, Booker knows the experience of collegiate athletes. Booker proposed a plan for college athletes that includes monetary opportunities, better education and help for injury-related medical bills. If the NCAA fails to acknowledge and address these factors, state and federal governments will take the power away from it and put it in the hands of people who will consider the interest of the student-athletes.

While most students on a college campus can work for money while studying, student-athletes are prohibited from profiting from their skills while in college. But rather than pay athletes as student employees, the most effective improvement would be allowing student-athletes to make money off their name, image and likeness, just like any other student on campus.

A study by Penn Schoen Berland interviewed hundreds of current and former Pac-12 athletes and found that athletes spend an average of 50 hours a week on athletics, diminishing the time they have for classwork. Between 2006 to 2009, only 68% of NCAA athletes obtained a degree. Booker proposes giving athletes a lifetime scholarship, giving them the chance to finish their degree at any time, not just when they are playing for the school and giving most of their time to their sport.

The NCAA also needs to consider better ways to help athletes who sustain injuries. As the process currently exists, schools are only required to pay for an athlete’s medical expenses when they are on an athletic roster. A career-ending injury can give a school the excuse to take away scholarships and paid medical treatment.

Booker proposes requiring schools to cover medical expenses for sports-related injuries for 10 years after that player’s eligibility ends. Sports Health found in 2017 that 67% of former DI athletes sustain a major injury during college. This plan would help those players, especially those who never play professionally, get treatment for injuries they sustain while playing for a school that profits off their labor.

Booker and other presidential candidates have proposed plans to strip the power from the NCAA and use federal action to fix these problems. California passed a name, image and likeness law, and nine other states are trying to do the same. If the NCAA wants to remain in power, they must act quickly to address these issues and show that they care more about the well-being of college athletes than they do about generating revenue.

Because if they do not, others will. 

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