Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

NIL Legistlation Not Perfect, But Makes Sense

May 14, 2020

After every home game in South Bend, you’ll find a crush of fans at the Knute Rockne Gate just outside Notre Dame Stadium.

Most members of the crowd are young Irish fans hoping to score an autograph, a picture or even just a high-five from some of their favorite Notre Dame players.

The motivations of a separate slice of the crowd aren’t as pure.

While kids in Irish jerseys are hoping for a memory that will last a lifetime, some of the adults searching for signatures are hoping to cash in.

“(My son) told me, ‘Some of these guys come up with like five of the exact same pictures wanting me to autograph them,’” the parent of one current Notre Dame star says.

A quick search of Amazon or Ebay provides all of the proof you need of that.

“It seems like any and everybody can make money off of these kids except for the student and the family,” the same parent says. “That doesn’t seem fair.”

It doesn’t seem fair because it’s not fair and it never has been.

Yahoo Sports Columnist Dan Wetzel has been writing about this topic for over a decade, dating back to former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon’s lawsuit against the NCAA for using his likeness in an EA Sports video game.

The left-handed starter wearing #31 on the Bruins’ roster in the game bore a striking resemblance to O’Bannon in both likeness and ability - as did virtually every other player in the game – but the NCAA denied the characters were based on any specific individuals.

That argument lost even the slightest bit of credibility when e-mails revealed that developers of the game actually included the players’ names during production to accurately depict ability settings and then removed them before the game’s release.

“Ed said, ‘That’s not fair,’” Wetzel said on ISD’s podcast recently, noting other former NCAA stars joined O’Bannon’s cause. “Oscar Robertson did the same thing and Desmond Howard and a bunch of players came out and said, ‘This isn’t right. There should be a time limit on this.’

“Who are you protecting from amateurism? Oscar Robertson is like, ‘I’m 65 years old and Cincinnati is still making money off me.’ Who are we protecting? What sanctity of the game is there when you’re claiming you’re sell a game-worn jersey of mine, which you aren’t?”

But things are changing now that the Board of Governors has recommended a change to NCAA rules preventing college athletes from receiving the sort of compensation that could come from autographs and many other things.

The Name Image Likeness (NIL) legislation could take effect as soon as January.

“Certain athletes will be able to generate some revenue,” says one sports business executive. “We were all college kids once, it’s always nice to have a few extra dollars in your pocket in college, right?”

Big Ten Network football analyst Howard Griffith, who is also the father of current Irish safety Houston Griffith, says, “On the surface, I’m all for it. I think it’s time the NCAA took the next step. With saying that, there are still a lot of things that have to be worked out.”

Griffith adds that it will be important the rules are uniform across institutions and states.

“Everyone has to have a level playing field as far as what they’re able to do,” he says.

“Then it falls upon the different universities and for that matter, alumni associations on how they want to proceed.”

The sports business executive doesn’t think every kid on every team is going to have an endorsement deal, not even the majority of them in his opinion.

“I think it will be a narrower group of athletes, but nevertheless, there will be some incremental revenue, which is good,” he says.

For decades, the NCAA’s stance has backed them into the kind of corners that led to ridiculous stances which prevented athletes from getting part-time jobs or even receiving a free meal from somebody who hadn’t been their friend dating back to childhood.

“While there are concerns, the concerns are because athletic directors, conference commissioners, NCAA lawyers and presidents did nothing for decades as this snowballed,” says Wetzel.

“I remember the Big Ten screaming that if they gave a $200-a-month, $300-a-month stipend to a player this would ruin amateurism in college athletics. Then they gave it and nothing happened. Literally nobody cared that some football players got a couple hundred bucks to do their laundry.”

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