NCAA Gives Student-Athletes Glimpse into the Big Leagues

NCAA Gives Student-Athletes Glimpse into the Big Leagues

For years, the NCAA has consistently adopted rules and policies aimed at prohibiting collegiate athletes from receiving any money from their status as student-athletes. They have historically been forbidden from capitalizing on their fame or likeness, meaning that compensation to student athletes has been traditionally limited to qualified scholarships or grants. Now, however, due to legislative pressures from states like California, the NCAA board of Governors has started to roll back these restrictions and potentially allow student-athletes an opportunity to monetize their fame similar to many of the players in the NFL, NBA, MBA and other professional organizations.

Supporters of the changes cite the new opportunities available to collegiate athletes as extra opportunities to capitalize on their skill. Changes could mean more financial relief to those already struggling to afford the steep tuitions required by many schools today. The change could also positively affect educational institutions—highly skilled athletes might now be able to “advertise” themselves to the public, potentially incentivizing a rise in game-day attendance and higher ticket sales and prestige for universities.

Critics of the new policy claim that the added incentive for athletes is improper as it draws athletes’ focus even further from the classroom, incentivizing them to focus more on they play—and now marketing. Some believe that professionalization of college athletics is a bad thing. However, given all the money universities have earned on the backs of student athletes these days, some of these arguments are hard to swallow. Why should college athletes not be allowed to capitalize on their own personas? The student athletes are adults with freedom like any other adult. After all, they can vote, pay taxes, have jobs. Why should being a good athlete cause anybody to be treated like an indentured servant? The universities have certainly made lots of money from publicizing their athletic programs. What’s more, like pros, student athletes suffer serious injuries, such as concussions, that can follow them for life, and they still have to pay for the rising tuitions from universities that have unabashedly raised tuition far beyond rates of inflation. For these and other reasons, some critics say the NCAA is stalling and has not gone far enough to give students freedom to capitalize on their own personas.

Many have criticized the NCAA policy because it requires any benefits to be tethered to education benefits, instead of cash. This has inspired some in Congress to propose overhauls in how we compensate athletes. U.S. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio, has said that he too plans to introduce a bill to Congress which would pave the way for athletes to monetize their fame. Introduction of a Congressional bill is in line with the NCAA’s proposition that college sports be “regulated at a national level.” It does seem clear that states which allow actual cash compensation to college athletes might have some recruiting advantages over other states who follow more traditional rules prohibiting student athlete compensation.

What does this mean for college athletes now? We think in means they should strongly consider efforts to protect their names and likeness using every available legal tool. Athletes should consider trademarking their names, nicknames, and any logos or images they associate with themselves. Just like great athletes such as LEBRON and MICHAEL JORDAN, ZION WILLIAMSON, or KELLY SLATER, student athletes should consider trademarking their names. Athletes who distinguish themselves in college, and perhaps move into the pros, could have a head start with owning and controlling rights used in licensing and endorsement deals. We don’t know exactly where the legislation and the NCAA might go, but we do know the smart play is on being prepared to protect personal identities as brands.

Buche & Associates, P.C., is a boutique firm specializing in intellectual property work and has a considerable practice dedicated to representing athletes with their legal matters. Whether you are a professional or collegiate athlete looking to secure and defend your right to your name or likeness, our team of attorneys and specialists can help. You can contact John Buche or Garett Gray if you have any questions about protecting your rights.

©2019 Buche & Associates, P.C. Article co-written by John Buche, J.D. and Mike Jones, J.D. candidate 2020.