On this point, nearly everyone can agree: All college athletes should get a fair shot at success. “Fair” seems like such a simple word, yet those of us who work in college sports understand the complexities of applying fairness equitably.
Our charge is to provide a level playing field to half a million student-athletes competing in 24 championship sports at more than 1,100 NCAA colleges and universities. Fairness at that scope requires patience and persistence.
State lawmakers in California and elsewhere believe they, too, are pursuing fairness when they take action to pave the way for student-athletes to profit from their names, images and likenesses. Yet in these cases, good intentions come between our member schools and their ability to work together to make inclusive, thoughtful decisions for the health of college sports.
The need to modernize how student-athletes can use their names, images and likenesses is an issue our members are ready to take on. The NCAA Board of Governors anticipated the need to address these challenges and appointed the Federal and State Legislation Working Group in the spring to examine the issue in detail. In response to the current environment, the group’s mission is to explore how student-athletes could appropriately engage in these activities without professionalizing college sports or turning it into an environment that could be manipulated easily in the absence of reasonable parameters.
The working group has weighed these difficult discussions while keeping in mind the vast scope of the NCAA. Our membership includes not only schools from every U.S. state and Canada, but those of various sizes, religious affiliations and institutional missions. We are uniquely positioned to bring together these diverse voices and reach a conclusion that respects the challenging nature of this environment.
One state cannot define national rules if we are going to accomplish this feat effectively. Without one set of national rules that all schools abide by, there is no level playing field for college sports.
We have seen how our NCAA governance process can advance support for student-athletes. In the past five years alone in Division I, we have enhanced academic support for student-athletes, improved health and safety protocols, provided cost-of-attendance scholarships and increased access to catastrophic injury insurance. At its heart, college sports is about education and students competing against students.
We know reforms are necessary to support the student-athlete experience in a changing world and evolving collegiate environment. We should strive to provide more opportunities for our student-athletes and continue modernizing our rules, but we must make these changes through a fair national process. Effective change takes time, and we must have patience, persistence and faith in the process to do it right. I know our membership is up to the task.