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April 10, 2011 - NCAA proposal would allow companies to use player images and schools profit

The Birmingham News published a pair of articles relating to NCAA proposals that would give schools more freedom to use images of athletes for commercial purposes. According to the NCAA, the proposals were made to change outdated rules and create more sponsorship revenue.

Currently, the NCAA does not allow companies from using an athlete's name, image or likeness in advertisements, promotions or other ventures. That would change if the legislation gets passed. The initial proposal, for instance, would allow game footage of current athletes to appear in television ads, as long as the ads mention the name of the athlete's institution. Companies could publicize sales events by saying athletes would be present to sign autographs.

In both cases, the sponsor would benefit from the athlete's image or presence. The school would benefit with money from the sponsor. The athlete would remain unpaid.

The council defeated three variations of the proposal earlier in April, but tabled an amended version until October. Both the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics and the National College Players Association have opposed all of the versions.  The NCAA said the Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee supports the tabled version after opposing the original.

The NCAA stated that the version still being considered "would accommodate advancements in technology and facilitate more authentic promotions associating schools with their sponsors" while continuing to prevent athletes from being exploited.

Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Associate Commissioner Shane Lyons, the chairman of the Legislative Council, said most ACC members likely oppose all of the proposals.

Said Lyons, "I think they feel discomfort if a student-athlete is in a poster with a commercial company's product, even though there's no direct language saying anything. Why do you have to use the athlete? Why can't you use an actor? Why can't you use the coach? Why can't it be the school's logo?"

In addition, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany told the Chronicle of Higher Education that Proposal 2010-26 -- prior to the amendments and different versions of the legislation – was "the essence of exploitation."

Amy Perko, executive director of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, which opposes the proposal because it doesn't want athletes to be exploited, said advertising has changed in the past 20 years.

"It's all about the game images," Perko said. "Joe Namath is the last athlete I can remember holding up a product and saying, 'Buy this.' To say the athletes are protected because they won't individually hold a product, I think is naive."

For example, Perko said, the proposal would have allowed Under Armour to use any game footage of Cam Newton in advertisements last season. That would have been possible simply by Newton signing a release form and Under Armour mentioning that it's a sponsor of Auburn.

"There's no doubt the rules as they're currently written need to be updated," Perko said. "But there's a big difference between updating and changing some fundamental principles. This particular proposal resembles the way pro athletes are used by their team or in their individual endorsement contracts. The only difference is who gets the money."

The Knight Commission in against the pending legislation based on principled concerns of colleges exploiting athletes for commercial gain. Notably, Perko stated that if one of the proposals passes the NCAA will be pressured to consider ways to balance the inequities that may result.

In its 2010 report, Restoring the Balance, one of the the Knight Commission’s recommendations was to: “Prevent use of athletes’ identities to promote commercial entities or products. As amateurs, college athletes cannot benefit financially from the commercial use of their names or images. NCAA rules should not allow commercial sponsors or other third parties to use symbols of the athletes’ identities for financial gain or to promote commercial entities.”

Baylor law professor Michael Rogers, chairman of the NCAA Amateurism Cabinet, said he doesn't believe the original proposal exploits athletes, but added that exploitation "is in the eye of the beholder." All of the proposals say there can be no missed class time or direct endorsement of a commercial product or service.

"We want to find additional corporate sponsors who share the values of the institutions and the conferences," Rogers said. "We were told that the (existing) rules were too complex and that some companies that might be interested in being a sponsor were staying away because they felt like it was hard to comply with."

The pair of articles can be accessed below: