With the new year comes questions regarding a new form of employment, that of the student athlete. NCAA regulations are changing to permit athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness. The decision, which seemed inevitable, comes in the wake of several court cases and legislative decisions in which players sought the ability to profit from their participation in college athletics. Recently, in California, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill allowing college athletes to be paid for endorsement deals and retain agents, a position the NCAA announced its opposition to and potentially intends to fight.
However, by vote, the NCAA governing board agreed to permit compensation in circumstances that have yet to be fully delineated. The decision was unanimous, a fact that indicates the NCAA could read the writing on the wall, possibly forestalling a flood of additional lawsuits. In this way, the NCAA may have some power to determine for itself in what manner athletes may be compensated and in which circumstances. This is a massive change in policy from an organization previously steadfast in its refusal to permit any manner of compensation for athletes falling under its purview. For athletes, past and present the decision comes as a recognition that their efforts, their accomplishments, and their very individualism belong to themselves and not to a governing body increasingly under scrutiny for its decisions.
It remains to be seen how these changes will be implemented, giving rise to unanswered questions about the character of the employee-employer relationship between student athletes, their schools, and the NCAA. While the NCAA opposes the progression to paying athletes, most notably on the basis on the loss of amateurism, young athletes stand to gain by maintaining an ownership right in their most valuable asset, themselves.