Connor Bazelak plays football at the University of Missouri. This week, he took steps to earn a dollar or two from that fact.
“According to the NCAA, starting July 1st all student-athletes have been granted permission to capitalize on our name, image and likeness,” he wrote on Twitter.
“Any local or any companies at all that want to use my social media as a platform to promote, do commercials, etc to brand themselves, my DMs are open for business,” he tweeted. “Message me if interested.”
College athletics, and higher education, are changing dramatically. The NCAA’s discussion of allowing a college athlete to market his or her name, image and likeness — known as NIL rights — is likely to mean millions of new dollars for students who compete under the NCAA’s banner.
Bazelak’s enthusiasm, while understandable, may have been slightly premature. The NCAA won’t make a final decision until Wednesday. A bill giving NIL rights to Missouri athletes sits on the governor’s desk, but even if he signs it, it won’t take effect until Aug. 28.
(Kansas hasn’t passed such a law, but the NCAA’s new rule says athletes in non-NIL states can still sell their names without violating NCAA policy.)
NIL rights will be particularly popular with women collegiate athletes. As professionals, women athletes earn less than male athletes in all but a handful of cases. But amateur and collegiate women athletes are hugely popular in social media, in many cases more popular than men.
Those athletes can potentially earn hundreds of thousands of dollars as influencers and advertisers.
Allowing college athletes to make money with their names is an obvious and welcome step. But let’s be clear: It’s only an interim solution to the problem of poor compensation for so-called amateur athletes.
Congress, or the courts, will eventually have to step in to make sure athletes are fully compensated for their work.
The first reason is obvious: NIL rights will require athletes to spend hours marketing themselves, sifting through competing offers and opportunities. It could lead to an arms race among schools offering NIL counseling and networking, further distancing rich athletic departments from those less rich.
But the biggest concern remains fundamental: College sports generate billions of dollars each year for coaches, administrators and athletic departments. Everyone connected with college sports, from the ticket-taker to the reporters who cover the games, earns money directly from the games.
Except, that is, the students who play them.
“The NCAA’s business model would be flatly illegal in almost any other industry in America,” Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in an NCAA case this month. “The NCAA is not above the law.”
Seen in that light, merely permitting the sale of NIL rights is pretty weak tea. Imagine your wealthy boss telling you that he can’t pay you a salary, but you’re free to make a few bucks hawking your name and likeness to an advertiser. More than likely you’d find somewhere else to work.
That’s extraordinarily difficult when you want to be an NCAA athlete. That’s why antitrust laws exist, and why Congress and the courts must enforce them.
“Legislation would be one option,” Kavanaugh wrote. “Or colleges and student athletes could potentially engage in collective bargaining (or seek some other negotiated agreement) to provide student athletes a fairer share of the revenues that they generate for their colleges.”
Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas can play an important role here. He’s proposed legislation making the NIL rules mandatory, and extending other rights to athletes. “Now is the time for Congress to act and establish a consistent, federal standard to empower student athletes,” he said last spring.
We agree. College athletes deserve an honest share of the revenue they produce. The NCAA has taken a small step in that direction, but Congress and the courts will have to take it from there.