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NCAA to allow players to benefit from name, image, and likeness

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With the rising tide on the horizon, Indianapolis waves a white flag.

NCAA Football: Florida at Tennessee Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

The NCAA will allow collegiate athletes to profit off the use of their name, image, and likeness, eroding one of the last bastions of the governing body’s commitment to amateurism, the organization announced today.

The NCAA’s Board of Governors voted unanimously to approve a proposal allowing collegiate athletes this new revenue stream on Tuesday, in their first formal meeting to discuss the potential granting of such rights to athletes after legislation was passed in California this September that would have punished NCAA-affiliated schools that prohibited players from profiting off their likeness.

And while that California law — publicly backed by LeBron James — is not set to go into full effect until 2023, it was followed by a wave of other proposed laws on both the state and national level, all pressuring the NCAA to respond to new challenges to its nearly century-old model of compensating athletes for their labor with scholarships and related monies.

That the NCAA has quickly rolled over on this issue is not exactly news the NCAA is touting — you have to go to the news page of its NCAA.org site to find it, and it’s nowhere to be found on NCAA.com. But it probably represents the NCAA’s best stab at maintaining its model of amateurism and preventing college sports from being classified as more than semi-professional sports: A set of rules allowing players to, for instance, earn royalties from jerseys sold with their name or number on them, or to earn marketing fees for endorsing products falls in line with the so-called Olympic model of athletic amateurism, while also not bringing the NCAA model under such threat that it might be untenable to maintain.

For those who would like to see college athletes be fully compensated for their labor, today’s announcement is thus likely to be seen as a bit more of a compromise than anything. The NCAA would almost certainly not have immediately given ground on this issue if it did not see doing so as a long-term win for its franchise, and it will certainly now fight tooth and nail to ensure that the compensation athletes get for their name, image, and likeness is standardized and kept within reasonable bounds, shifting the ceiling on possible compensation slightly skyward while keeping it firmly intact.

For those who don’t mind a compromise — especially one that might make the return of the beloved NCAA Football video game series a matter of time — this is probably going to be seen as a praise-worthy moment for an organization that has stood athwart efforts to allow college athletes to be paid fair market value for their labor and picked stupid fights with some athletes over their use of their identity to make money.

Don’t expect to see Kyle Trask in a Gatorade ad tomorrow: The NCAA’s directions to its divisions suggest that any formal rule changes will likely be made down the road, though no later than January 2021.

But do expect that things of that nature are coming — and relatively soon — to college sports.