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Is NCAA play and get paid rule reform or way to avoid greater scrutiny, change?

By Bryan 18X Crawford -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Nov 6, 2019 - 9:26:36 AM

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After years of political and social pushback, the NCAA announced that college athletes on scholarship will be able to monetize their names, images and likenesses while still being allowed to compete in their respective sports.

The move on the part of the NCAA comes after lawmakers in several states signed legislation permitting student athletes to capitalize financially on their sports profiles, without penalty from a college, university or the NCAA itself. Athletes in Division I, III and II schools will be allowed to hire agents and sign endorsement deals. It’s a sharp reversal from the NCAA’s longstanding rules—called exploitative by many—barring athletes from receiving compensation of any kind while on scholarship.

“We must embrace change to provide the best possible experience for college athletes,” Michael Drake, president of The Ohio State University, who was part of the task force, said in a statement. “Additional flexibility in this area can and must continue to support college sports as a part of higher education. This modernization for the future is a natural extension of the numerous steps NCAA members have taken in recent years to improve support for student-athletes, including full cost of attendance and guaranteed scholarships.”

Since May, NCAA administrators had been examining ways to tackle the issue of compensation for student athletes. Ironically, the NCAA’s announcement comes one month after California governor Gavin Newsom formally signed SB 206, known as the “Fair Pay to Play Act” on the HBO and Uninterrupted’s “The Shop” with LeBron James. Uninterrupted is the media company founded by Mr. James, a professional basketball star, and longtime friend and business partner Maverick Carter. The California law doesn’t go into effect until 2023, but many other states have begun drafting and passing similar legislation; the latest being New York when Senator Kevin Parker introduced Senate Bill S6722A which, if signed into law, would require New York colleges to share 15 percent of their annual athletics revenue with student-athletes.

But as good as all of this sounds and looks, some question both the motives and the genuineness of the NCAA—which calls its decision a “modernization for the future.” Some who have followed the situation closely for the better part of a decade feel the NCAA is simply trying to keep other legislatures from following in the footsteps of California.

“What they’re really trying to do is stall both state and federal legislation from going forward so that they can put something in place that really doesn’t do anything. It appears to do something, but doesn’t really do anything; so they can get Congress off their backs,” ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas said on the “Golic and Wingo” ESPN Radio show. “The NCAA called Congress and asked the two representatives—one being Mark Walker from North Carolina—to pull their legislation, and their response was no.”

Stephen Bardo, of the famed “Flying Illinois” basketball squad at the University of Illinois, who is also a college basketball color analyst, echoed Mr. Bilas’ sentiment.

“The NCAA has always tried to control the narrative … If Jay Bilas is of the mindset that the NCAA is just trying to buy time and keep people off their backs, if you study the history of this situation, I think that’s an accurate assessment,” Mr. Bardo told The Final Call. “The NCAA has nonprofit status, but when you talk about all the money they bring in, if Congress started looking around, I think they would see some things that would not be appealing.”

March Madness, the NCAA’s annual college basketball tournament, makes roughly $900 million, which equates to 90 percent of its annual revenue. The NCAA currently has 1,100 member schools and more than 500,000 student athletes—none of whom are currently allowed to capitalize off their talent in any way. All of the money goes into the NCAA’s coffers.

“The NCAA appears to be giving the athletes liberty, but they still haven’t given them equity,” Cedric Muhammad, CEO of The Hip-Hoppreneur and member of The Nation of Islam’s Research Team, told The Final Call. “This is disingenuous because this is a reaction to pressure and the culture of today’s athletes. The NCAA has what I call reputational risk, and in order to save their reputation, they had to do something.”

“I think the NCAA understands they’re under attack and they had to do something to maintain a semblance of the system that’s in place now,” Mr. Bardo added. “So, I think they’re trying to make concessions so that the whole system doesn’t come crumbling down. And I think more than anything, that’s what they’re trying to avoid in this.”

Ultimately, Mr. Muhammad feels for the athletes to not have the wool pulled over their eyes with this new stance taken by the NCAA, saying they should come together as a collective—similar to a union. They need to be proactive about taking control of this perceived economic opportunity to not to continue being exploited, he said.

“It’s up to us to present a proactive agenda on what we do want to happen because the NCAA has lost its credibility on this issue,” Mr. Muhammad explained. “But we create a vacuum and a void for them to benefit even more because we haven’t taken the responsibility to guide this in the way we want to see it go. The NCAA is better equipped than we are to commercialize and monetize this new environment. This situation should be folded in with the issue of justice, and our athletes, entertainers and artists need to come together with business professionals, business leaders, spiritual leaders, and those at the community level with our politicians, and work out a new economic framework that can come from this. Unless we do that, then the NCAA will be in a better position to benefit from what they never wanted to do any-way. We can’t create a vacuum with our activism and not fill that void with a proactive agenda,” argued Mr. Muhammad.