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Here’s a Logical Solution to the NCAA’s Name and Likeness Problem, and It Involves the Transfer Portal

Kill two birds with one stone.

NCAA Men’s Final Four - Previews Photo by Maxx Wolfson/Getty Images

In the words of Heath Ledger’s Joker, here we go.

California Governor Gavin Newsome (alongside LeBron James) has signed into law the Fair Pay to Play Act, paving the way for a legal showdown between the largest state in the union and the NCAA:

Lo and behold, now a few more states are reportedly next in line, including the great state of Florida:

The California law comes into effect in 2023, leaving plenty of time for the NCAA to figure out a reasonable solution that benefits all parties.


NCAA: Don’t evolve - Lie, then FIGHT!

I just don’t understand Mark Emmert. Well, no, maybe I do. When change comes, the easiest thing to do is fear-monger, which is what Emmert did when asked recently about the state of California passing the Fair Pay to Play Act, which would grant all athletes the right to profit off their names and likenesses.

Full disclosure: I admit I’m really biased here. I do not think NCAA athletes should be paid outright salaries for their services. I’m in the camp that says they’re already getting paid, in the form of their scholarships (which keep getting more and more valuable as tuition and student debt levels go up), housing, an insane amount of high-quality food, books, per diem (which they do get) and an even more ludicrous amount of free apparel.

I graduated with two degrees after five years at two institutions and nearly $80,000 in student debt because I wasn’t good at a sport (and that was with four years at a public school and impeccable grades throughout), and I’m not alone among the non-athlete crowd in knowing how graduating with zero student debt gives you a HUGE head start.

But I’m also a student of modern technology. We live in an age when entrepreneurism is as accessible as ever, and our names, faces and talents are our brand, thanks to the internet. This very site is an example of that. Had I been a UCF football player in 2004 and started this site then, I would probably have been ruled ineligible for daring to pursue my post-college career while being in college.

See how dumb that sounds?

Whether you like it or not, I’m sympathetic with former UCF players like Donald De La Haye, who fought the NCAA’s arcane rules and ended up losing his scholarship because he had an idea and a talent for carrying it out, and Jah Reid, who filed suit with UCF for using his name and likeness without his permission long after he graduated and obtained control over it.

Now more than ever, student-athletes are actually victim to the NCAA’s rulebook impeding their careers, rather than facilitating them, which is the exact opposite of the NCAA’s mission.

If 99.2% of student athletes are going pro in something other than sports, as the NCAA touts in its PSAs, why can’t they go pro in that thing while they’re finishing school, like everyone else?

The NCAA’s answer is, as always: Amateurism! That opens the door to cheating!

Bullshit. Let’s not pretend the NCAA really cares about cheating. If they did, the entire SEC would get the Death Penalty.

So in an age where our names and likenesses are also our brands, it’s time for the NCAA to join the 21st Century with a few, easy rule changes:

Allow student-athletes to be paid for the use of their name and likeness.

Jerseys. Video games. Bobblehead dolls. You name it. If it has your face or number on there, or it’s determined that you made money off of this at least in large part due to your being a college athlete (see Donald De La Haye), you get a cut of the pie, plain and simple.

This has the added benefit of endearing the athletes even more to the fans, which for me is one of the best parts of college sports.

In addition, this is a huge boost for the Olympic sports (read: not football and men’s basketball), opening up the financial options for those athletes who have essentially no professional prospects.

Now here’s the part where the NCAA gets a little something in this compromise.

Put all that income into an escrow account that’s payable upon completion of the student-athlete’s degree.

Yes, you get the money, but not unless you get your degree - in other words, fulfilling your core obligation for that scholarship. That’s what the university is bringing you there to do.

One caveat: If you transfer as a graduate student, you get to keep the money, since you’re pursuing a second degree.

Another caveat: If you complete your bachelor’s degree while still in your undergraduate eligibility, you receive the money once you get the undergraduate degree, since you’ll have to take grad classes anyway to stay eligible - just at your original institution, and not a new one.

This also puts the prospect of leaving early for the pros into stark relief, since that means you likely wouldn’t complete your degree, or if you do, it will be well after your college days are over. So again, you better make damn sure.

Now here’s where it gets fun, since we’re now hearing the college athletics literati wax poetic on the transfer portal and how it’s “ruining the sport” [insert eyeroll]. We know they’re going to try and come down on that somehow, so here’s the compromise:

If you transfer before completing your degree, you forfeit your name and likeness payments.

So you better make damn sure that’s what you want to do.

Of course, we can add some more caveats to this, such as (a) if your coach leaves or (b) your program is put on probation (NOTE: This can put some actual teeth into the NCAA’s rules regime), and you decide to transfer, you may take your escrow payments with you.

There are still a lot of other things college athletes should still bargain for, including full lifetime health benefits and guaranteed scholarships. But at least there is an opening for progress toward a regime that makes sense and achieves the primary goal of enabling students to utilize their talents and complete their education.