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Name, Image, and Likeness: The NCAA’s Rules on College Athletes Receiving Benefits

Name, Image, and Likeness: The NCAA’s Rules on College Athletes Receiving Benefits

Previously, the NCAA imposed strict rules on student-athletes regarding an athlete’s acceptance of benefits or compensation based on their name, image, or likeness. Even accepting a benefit valued at just $22 as part of a public appearance warranted Eric Crouch a short-term suspension in 2000.

All of this changed in 2021 after a series of Supreme Court cases that dealt specifically with the NCAA’s rules regarding compensation and benefits received by their athletes. NCAA v. Alston ended a long-standing debate on whether college athletes could receive monetary compensation for their performances. The court unanimously decided on June 21, 2021, to lift the compensation restrictions imposed on athletes by the NCAA. This decision does not mean that student athletes are now receiving salaries – instead, the ruling established that the NCAA could not limit a student’s financial or educational benefits based on their status as an NCAA college athlete. (Read more about the topic of compensation in this McNeelyLaw blog post.)

The realm of endorsement deals and public appearances based on a player’s identity was a slightly different issue than scholarships and other types of compensation. However, the unanimous Alston decision pushed the NCAA to drop its ban on name, image, and likeness benefits (commonly called “NIL income”). The NCAA responded by changing their guidelines related to NIL income, stating that college athletes could now take advantage of opportunities that relied on an athlete’s identity. The four guidelines below were offered by the NCAA to provide clarity on their new NIL policy:

  1. Individuals can engage in NIL activities that are consistent with the law of the state where the school is located. Colleges and universities may be a resource for state law questions.
  1. Individuals can use a professional service provider for NIL activities.
  1. College athletes who attend a school in a state without an NIL law can engage in NIL activity without violating NCAA rules related to name, image and likeness.
  1. State law and schools/conferences may impose reporting requirements.

While not all states have passed their own NIL laws, NCAA athletes can rely on the interim policy changes made by the NCAA to guide them. Many of the deals that have resulted from the new NIL policy have been in the form of sponsorships from restaurants, gyms, and local organizations. Some deals have even originated from the athlete’s use of their image on social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok. This movement highlights the value of an athlete’s personal brand and allows the athletes to engage with their audiences on a more personal level than before.

While many college athletes have rushed to take advantage of new regulations in the last few months, the NCAA still considers this policy to be an interim rule, with potential glitches to fix as time goes on. Experts assume that there will be tax issues, compliance discrepancies, and conflicts regarding contracts that athletes enter. Some even speculate further issues with players from foreign countries earning NIL income in the United States. Only time will tell what this novel development has in store for the NCAA, college athletes, and their legal teams alike.

Do you have more questions about the new NIL policy, or any related NCAA decisions? McNeelyLaw attorneys are available to discuss what these policy changes may mean for you. Contact us at 317-825-5110 to speak with an attorney today.

This McNeelyLaw LLP publication should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion of any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only, and you are urged to consult your own lawyer on any specific legal questions you may have concerning your situation.

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