NCAA’s Name, Image, and Likeness Rule Proposal is Changing the Collegiate Sports Model

Sarah Suddarth

Associate Editor

Loyola University Chicago School of Law, JD 2021


On October 25, 2019, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (“NCAA”) unanimously voted to begin changing the rule to allow colleges athletes to profit off their name, image, and likeness. This progressive move is a big deal for the organization, which has previously kept an extremely firm line between amateurism and professionalism for their athletes. Despite opposition by some to change the current model, public opinion is strongly in favor of these types of changes.

The Current NCAA Name, Image, and Likeness Rule

The current rule in effect prohibits student athletes from profiting in any way from their image or likeness, including things related to athletics or performance. For example, a student athlete cannot appear on brochures or posters or promote their own clothing line on their social media, because that would be profiting of their image or likeness. The full rule provides for complex situations when student athletes are permitted to receive any type of compensation or payment, regardless of the services rendered.

The possible changes to the NCAA Name, Image, and Likeness Rule

The official statement published by the NCAA Board of Governors states that in its continued effort to support college athletes, the governing body will permit student athletics to benefit from the use of their name, image, and likeness. The actual changing of the rule will fall on the three divisions of the NCAA, Division I, II, and II. The Board instructed each division to create new rules effective immediately, but no later than January 2021. Included in the principles at issue is assurance that student-athletes be treated similarly to non-student athletes. A fundamental piece of this change is the priority of education for the student athletes, and affirming that student-athletes are students and not employees of the universities.

The positives of the Rule change

The proposed changes have been celebrated by many people with intimate knowledge of the college athletics system, including University presidents and professional athletes. These individuals have opined that the modernization of rules is progressive and should be celebrated, just as recent rule changes in efforts to support student athletes have been positive. These include increasing athletic scholarship amounts to include full cost of attendance, guaranteed scholarships, and improving support for student-athletes which include mental health support.

These change address long-held gripes concerning athletes who compete in college, who are prohibited from receiving any of the money they themselves generate. Proponents argue that the athlete deserves a piece of the pie, just like the coaches and athletic directors who receive most of the earnings, as it is under the current scheme. The obvious benefits of this rule would be, for example, the football quarterback receiving a shoe deal or sports drink endorsement. But, the changes would also extend the possibility of compensation to those whose athletic career ends at the college level. Particularly, the changes would be most beneficial for female athletes, who generally hit their peak popularity, earning potential, and athletic opportunity while in college.

The negatives of the Rule change 

An obstacle facing the modernization of the NCAA rules is what it would mean for the funding model of college sports. Currently, collegiate sports generate $14 billion in annual revenue.  Universities make a portion of this revenue, which is almost entirely reinvested into the sports programs of the respective school. Pursuant to the new NCAA rule, university athletic departments could experience a loss in revenue, as a portion of the money is diverted to student athletes. Although this may seem like a positive, the dark reality would mean that sports programs would need to make cuts, having large implications on Title IX.

Title IX provides equitable opportunities for men and women in college athletics. The law applies to scholarships, facilities, support services, and all other aspects of college athletics. With a loss in revenue for athletic departments, men’s athletic opportunities, most notably scholarship money, would need to be slashed because women’s opportunities cannot be inequitable to men’s. In turn, the rule would drastically decrease women’s opportunities, both athletic and compensatory, due to the loss in university athletic revenue.

The future of the Rule Change

The question remains how the complexities of these rules will function within current college athletics. Senators have expressed skepticism about how athletic scholarships may function as income under this new rule. An important distinction to make is that the proposal would not allow student-athletes to be paid. This issue at hand is only about profiting for things such as endorsement deals and hiring sports agents. An area that has received a significant amount of praise is the possibility of the return of the NCAA Football videogame.  The popular game ended in 2014 as a number of lawsuits alleged that it violated NCAA image and likeness rules.

One thing is clear, this announcement will bring one of the biggest changes to college athletics in recent years. Since no details of the rule outside of basic principles have been announced, we will have to wait for the Divisions to reveal their plans. To allow student-athletes to profit in any way is to turn the current structure on its head. There will surely be a complex road ahead for the NCAA in rolling out, and eventually implementing, this change.