Knight Commission Proposes Principles to Guide New Name, Image and Likeness Rules for College Athletes

  • Read our full recommendations here.
  • Watch the educational video on NIL produced by the Knight Commission, narrated by two former college sports stars, Olympic medalist Elizabeth Beisel and NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson.

The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics released a set of principles today to guide the development of new policies allowing college athletes to earn compensation for the use of their name, image and likeness (NIL) from sources other than their institutions.

The Commission sent the recommendations to the NCAA last week in advance of NCAA governance meetings later this month when changes to these rules will be considered.

“There’s no reason that college athletes shouldn’t have the same rights as other students on campus to earn compensation for the use of their name, image and likeness,” said Commission Co-Chair Arne Duncan, former U.S. Secretary of Education. “This is long overdue, and we hope that the principles we’re proposing will help open up opportunities for college athletes while ensuring they are treated fairly and know their rights.”

The Commission’s five recommended principles protect the rights of college athletes to pursue NIL opportunities while ensuring they do not become forms of pay for play or create improper recruiting advantages.

Notably, the principles specify guardrails that have not been addressed in state laws proposed to date, such as prohibiting institutions or conferences from allowing college athletes to use institutional or conference trademarks and logos in conjunction with any commercial use of the athletes’ name, image and likeness.

“These new rules should focus on allowing college athletes to earn compensation for the value of their name, image and likeness – not the added value the institutions and their conferences might bring to any deals,” explained the Commission’s other co-chair, Carol Cartwright, president emeritus at Kent State University and Bowling Green State University. “If institutions and conferences are allowed to add their brand value through the use of logos and trademarks to athlete endorsements and other opportunities, these deals will quickly become forms of pay for play.”

The principles also call for independent oversight of the management and application of NIL rules and for uniform rules, at a time when dozens of states are considering or have passed NIL laws.

To help inform the debate both within the NCAA and among state and federal policymakers, the Commission developed five guiding principles that address the following:


  1. Fairness to Athletes as Students.
  2. Informing Athletes on NIL Rights.
  3. Oversight of NIL Rights.
  4. Guardrails for NIL Rights.
  5. National Uniformity.


The details for each principle can be found here.

Additionally, the Commission developed examples for applying its principles to likely NIL opportunities for college athletes, available here.

The Knight Commission has provided leadership in examining the evolving issues on NIL rights for more than a decade. In 2008, it was the first group to raise public concerns about the commercial use of athletes’ likenesses in video games and proposals to use college athletes’ names and likeness in commercial fantasy sports games. Later, after the O’Bannon v. NCAA lawsuit was resolved, the Commission in 2016 funded an important white paper on a possible new NIL model for college sports by Gabe Feldman, director of the Tulane Sports Law Program, which presented recommendations that remain relevant today.

For more information about these principles and examples of their implementation and the Commission’s prior work on this issue, visit our website.

About the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics

The Knight Commission was formed by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in October 1989. The Commission’s purpose is to develop, promote and lead transformational change that prioritizes the education, health, safety and success of college athletes. Over time, the NCAA has adopted a number of the Commission’s recommendations that strengthen the educational mission of college sports, including the rule that requires teams to be on track to graduate at least 50 percent of their players to be eligible for postseason competition. The Commission’s College Athletics Financial Information (CAFI) database provides financial transparency for where the money comes from and where the money goes in college sports.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit