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College sports to change forever

When the NCAA announced last week its intention to allow, in some to-be-determined fashion, its athletes to receive compensation for their names, images and likenesses, Sonny Vaccaro grabbed his cell phone.

He sent Ed O’Bannon, the face and spine of a lawsuit sponsored by Vaccaro that helped pave the way toward the NCAA’s groundbreaking declaration, a congratulatory text message.

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“We sort of patted each other on the back,” said Vaccaro, the 80-year-old former shoe guru. “I have his words right here … ‘We all did something together.’ As usual, he was self-effacing. Eddie O’Bannon should be a hero to every kid who will now cash in on his name, image and likeness.”

World-class skier Jeremy Bloom relished the news. In 2006, the NCAA stripped him of his final two years of football eligibility at Colorado upon his participation in the Winter Olympics. On his Twitter account he wrote, “Big win for all future college athletes!”

O’Bannon, however, has moved on. Reached late Saturday night, he had neither reviewed nor cared to peruse the release. He had passed that baton to others, he said, satisfied in gaining at least a partial victory, in 2014, with the somewhat landmark O’Bannon v. NCAA.

Enforcement nightmare

Jim Livengood had delved into those details and is concerned. His distinguished administrative career includes 27 combined years as athletic director at Washington State, Arizona and UNLV, and he served on many committees. He now runs a consultancy in Tucson.

“I do applaud this committee for making progress,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do. I’m anxious to see what the end product looks like. It’s got a lot of tentacles. There’s a lot of controversy.

“Part of that doesn’t even fall under unintended consequences: it falls under things keeping (athletic directors), presidents, and certainly the compliance people, up all night.”

On April 29, the NCAA Board of Governors revealed its support of such NIL (name, image, likeness) legislation from the recommendations of a working group that had been assembled to address the issue in May 2019. The group proposed a set of guidelines that will be discussed by members of NCAA Divisions I, II and III, in conjunction with its Federal and State Legislation Working Group. Adoption will be voted upon at the NCAA Convention scheduled for Jan. 13-16, 2021, in Washington, D.C., for implementation that fall.

Val Ackerman, Big East commissioner and a committee co-chair with Ohio State A.D. Gene Smith, noted the panel’s heightened concern about regulating booster activity, primarily in recruiting, in that new environment. She predicted such fans might have various levels of involvement.

Compensation via social media, businesses they have started and personal appearances are in the guidelines. Student-athletes would be permitted to identify themselves by sport and school, but they would be restricted from displaying conference and school logos and trademarks.

None of it can be related to performance or participation. Priorities include regulating agents and advisors, and the transparency and enforceability of a deliberate set of rules, “facilitating fair and balanced competition,” according to the release.

States have own rules

What individual states might enact further perplexes Livengood. California passed an NIL law in September that takes effect in 2022, and similar measures have been pushed in 10 other states, including Florida and Michigan.

If a five-star football player is choosing between UCLA and Arizona State, say, and the former allows some form of extra compensation that the latter does not, how does that affect the “fair and balanced” factor? What are the guardrails? 

Livengood, 75, has come to despise that cliché.

“Some states are coming on line here and they’re not waiting for anybody,” he said. “It’s crazy. Someone will have to make some hard decisions. Within the State of California, that’s going to be really hard.

Odds unaffected

South Point oddsmaker Vinny Magliulo did not foresee potential new allowances directly affecting college football odds or spreads.

“I think it will impact recruiting which we (already) pay close attention to,” he said.

UNLV booster Tom Jingoli, the chief operating officer of Konami Gaming, believed the legislation could most benefit Rebels when their athletic careers end, as those relationships could be hatched, and fostered, while they’re in school. At one time, 10 percent of Konami’s workforce of 600 held UNLV degrees.

“The best business relationships, in my opinion, are the ones in which both sides benefit, and this is an opportunity where both sides can benefit,” said Jingoli, 52. “This town loves the Rebels, always has and always will.”

Regarding the murky area of booster involvement with collegiate athletes, and how new revenue avenues might affect the haves and have-nots, Vaccaro laughed.

“You have to be kidding … boosters have been running college football and basketball for 100 years. The bigs get the bigs. They get the same kids every year, they’re just different names.

“We always fear what’s underneath the duck that looks so calm on top of the water,” Livengood said. “The fear is of what’s really going on underneath in that process. For the majority of schools and kids, it isn’t going to be an issue. But if anybody wants to push the boundaries, the limits, it’s a little scary what could happen.”