U.S. college athletes nationwide are now allowed to profit from the use of their name, image and likeness, the NCAA announced Wednesday.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association’s board of directors voted to overturn an increasingly controversial rule that prohibited athletes from leveraging their popularity for business pursuits, marking a historic shift toward an era of increased financial opportunities for student athletes.
The policy is set to take effect Thursday, the same day 12 states will enact laws legalizing such opportunities. As momentum behind the legislation built, the NCAA scrambled to avoid a piecemeal adoption of rules, which could have created a recruiting imbalance among schools.
Several other states have laws allowing college athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness (NIL) that go into effect later this summer, with even more going into effect next year and in 2023.
"This is an important day for college athletes since they all are now able to take advantage of name, image and likeness opportunities," NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a statement.
The decision came after the association's Division I Council sent Monday a recommendation in support of name, image and likeness income to the board.
Although exact provisions will vary depending on the state and school, athletes can now receive income from brand deals, social media posts, merchandise and much more.
The relaxed rules also apply to athletes at a college or university in the NCAA’s lower two divisions, which include less visible or wealthy athletic programs.
Despite the loosening of rules related to third-party income, the NCAA continues to bar any form of “pay-for-play,” where athletes receive income directly from their school.
“The new policy preserves the fact college sports are not pay-for-play,” said Sandra Jordan, the chair of the NCAA’s Division II Presidents Council and chancellor of the University of South Carolina Aiken.
“It also reinforces key principles of fairness and integrity across the NCAA and maintains rules prohibiting improper recruiting inducements,” she said.
The NCAA will also allow athletes to enlist endorsement companies to help manage and expand a personal brand.
Student-athletes celebrated the announcement on social media, with many already enacting plans to cash in on the policy change.
University of Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz, for example, filed a logo trademark for a line of initial-branded merchandise and released a brand announcement video to his social media pages.
The university recently announced an educational partnership with promotional company Opendorse to help athletes like Mertz navigate the new NIL era.
Some companies are already lining up for athlete’s attention. Runza Restaurants, a fast-food chain based in Nebraska, offered a flat payment to the first 100 student-athletes who promote the company’s app on social media.
The NCAA fought numerous legal battles in defense of its NIL restrictions, arguing that limiting student-athlete compensation helps preserve the amateur aspect of college sports.
Most recently, the Supreme Court ruled that students could receive education-related compensation such as free computers and access to internships. The high court notably did not consider aspects of the lawsuit that addressed NIL payments in its decision.
Though the NCAA has asked Congress to help introduce federal legislation regarding NIL, progress has been slow. The organization’s new policy will remain in effect unless lawmakers quickly pass a bill or the NCAA changes its rules again.