NCAA Proposal Would Give Companies More Latitude to Use Athletes’ Images in Ads

The Chronicle of Higher Education reported on the NCAA’s 2011 convention where the Division I Legislative Council will consider a proposal that would change the NCAA’s current rules which prohibit the commercial use of use of a student-athlete’s name, image, or “likeness” in advertisements, promotions, or other ventures. The proposed measure would allow corporate sponsors to feature game clips of current athletes in their TV ads, for instance, as long as the ads include the name of the athlete’s institution. It would also allow companies to publicize sales events at which college athletes would be present. However, there is significant concern from individuals in higher education that the proposed changes would link student-athletes to the marketing of commercial products. In addition, others feel the proposal would provide a new source of revenue for the NCAA and institutions by exploiting student-athletes’ athletic talents.

James E. Delany, commissioner of the Big Ten Conference, which opposes the measure, stated the proposal is “the essence of exploitation” that would allow companies “virtually unlimited latitude” in using athletes’ images to promote their commercial interests. Members of the Pac-10 Council concluded that profits gained from the use of athletes’ names or likenesses would be “philosophically inappropriate.”

The NCAA’s own Division I Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), which represents all of the student-athletes in NCAA’s most competitive division, Division I, is concerned about a provision that calls for athletes to sign a release statement allowing companies to use their images.  The committee has asked for a clarification about the amount of input student-athletes would have if companies were permitted to use athletes’ names or images in their promotions.

Notably, the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, in its report, Restoring the Balance: Dollars, Values, and the Future of College Sports, recommended against the use of student-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.”

Supporters of the proposal say it would modernize and streamline outdated rules that govern the delicate relationship between athletic departments and their corporate sponsors, which provide much-needed revenue. Many believe the current regulations are outdated – the regulations note printed posters, calendars, and media guides—but not of the myriad technological advances that have changed the way college sports is marketed and consumed. Nor do the current rules define what, exactly, constitutes an athlete’s name or image.