The NCAA is considering allowing its athletes to endorse products without compromising their amateur status, Big East commissioner Val Ackerman told Sports Illustrated on Friday.
“That’s one that’s actually under consideration I believe by the NCAA,” Ackerman said. “It’s actually a time right now where student athlete interests are being closely examined. I don’t have an answer for you on that one today but I will say that and a number of other topics are under review, and I think rightly by the NCAA and it’s very possible that over the course of the next year or two as these these ideas work their way through the legislative system you could see changes.”
That would be the most significant re-definition of amateurism in NCAA history. The NCAA has never allowed athletes to receive compensation beyond a scholarship and small stipend for living expenses from the school they attend.
The legal and moral underpinnings of this situation have come to the front lines of public debate over the last few years, during which time the NCAA has offered small concessions that seemed designed to test just how serious the public was about all this. Two years ago in the famous Ed O’Bannon case a judge ruled that prohibiting players from receiving payments violated antitrust laws. And it was only last year the NCAA allowed schools to give athletes a little food-and-laundry money — capped at $6,000.
Allowing players to sign endorsement deals would still leave the NCAA short of anything that might be considered a “free market,” but it would at least return the rights of player names and likenesses to their rightful owners. And, who knows, there might even be an unintended benefit to the NCAA — star players already getting rich may not feel so desperate to jump to the pros.
The O’Bannon case is ongoing. His lawyers are trying to take it to the Supreme Court, and in the meantime one more layer of the NCAA facade has started to peel.