United States college athletes can profit from brand sponsorships and endorsement deals under a new rule approved on Tuesday by the governing board of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the organisation that sets regulations for US collegiate sports.
The unanimous vote follows growing pressure on the NCAA to lift restrictions on athletes that have kept them from sharing in the financial rewards generated by their performances.
The change will likely benefit athletes in high-profile sports such as basketball and American football, which drive billions of dollars in advertising and revenue for media outlets, schools and the NCAA itself.
California has already approved legislation to allow student-athletes to earn endorsement money, long forbidden by the NCAA as part of its mission to protect the amateur status of collegiate sports.
The NCAA board, composed mostly of university officials, voted to allow student-athletes to benefit from the use of their names, images or likenesses. It directed each of the NCAA’s three divisions to update their bylaws no later than January 2021.
“The board’s action today creates a path to enhance opportunities for student-athletes while ensuring they compete against students and not professionals,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement on the website ncaa.org.
The Indianapolis-based NCAA reported total revenues of more than $1bn last year, about 80 percent of which came from television and marketing rights fees.
California last month became the first US state to give college athletes the potentially lucrative opportunity to earn endorsement money, with Governor Gavin Newsom signing legislation into law that would take effect in 2023. Sponsors said the law could encourage star players to stay in school rather than dropping out to turn professional.
The state of New Jersey quickly moved to follow suit, with lawmakers last week introducing the “New Jersey Fair Play Act” to allow student-athletes compensation for the use of their names or likenesses and to also give them the ability to hire their own agents or lawyers.
Similar bills are under consideration in the states of Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Minnesota – and in the US Congress – according to media reports.
The NCAA said “modernization” of its guidelines should “reaffirm that student-athletes are students first and not employees of the university”.
The NCAA board voted to allow student-athletes to endorse brands after hearing recommendations from a working group that gathered input from student-athletes, coaches, college presidents, faculty and commissioners from its three divisions, the NCAA said.