NCAA Likeness Debate Heats Up at the NCAA Convention - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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NCAA Likeness Debate Heats Up at the NCAA Convention

NCAA Likeness Debate Heats Up at the NCAA Convention

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (“NCAA”) holds a convention each year to discuss and vote on policy changes for the organization.1 Typically, this convention is rather uneventful, with minor changes to rules or policies that typically go unnoticed by its member universities or student athletes.2  However, the convention this year was fraught with debate over whether athletes have a right to their names, images, and likenesses with respect to compensation.3

While this debate has been a hot topic for many years, it recently came to the forefront of NCAA debates when California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill in the fall of 2019, giving student-athletes permission to profit off their names, images, and likenesses.4 This act, known as the Fair Pay to Play Act (the “Act”), has received much controversy from the NCAA and the athletic community, both for and against its policies.5 In fact, many other states have expressed interest in passing their own legislation which would grant similar rights to student-athletes in their states.6

The purpose of the Act was give student-athletes in the state of California “access to the free marketplace,” a right enjoyed by all Americans outside of college athletics.7 Some people are concerned about what this type of legislation will do to the world of college athletics, especially with respect to create fair and level playing fields for college athletes and sports in general.8 The original concept of college athletics relied heavily on the idea of amateurism and fair competition amongst talented, but non-professional athletes.9 However, those against such legislation fear that changes like the Act will completely change the landscape of college athletics, steering away from the concept of sport-centered athletics, and turning into a more commercialized and profit-focused game.10 Further, there is a concern that the use of endorsement deals and profiting off of one’s likeness will become a focus in the recruiting process, creating a further divide in the “level-playing field” amongst top recruiting universities, and smaller Division I programs.11

While the NCAA has pushed back on this idea for years, there was some promise when the passing of the California bill led to the NCAA President, Mark Emmert, testifying before a Senate subcommittee that there needs to be a change and more options to allow student-athletes to benefit from their own names and faces.12 The current NCAA bylaws prevent student athletes from accepting or creating any kind of endorsement deals or accepting money for the use of their likeness; this includes clothing brands, advertisements for universities, and video games including the use of their names and images.13

While the NCAA President has shown some support for the reform, many are skeptical about whether the NCAA will actually create changes to their policies, especially given the amount of money on the line for the organization itself.14 Perhaps this is in part due to the fact that the NCAA has spent three quarters of a million dollars in the last year lobbying lawmakers to makes shape states’ name and likeness legislation in their favor.15 Using their “deep pockets” and position of power, the NCAA, despite advocating support for change, has continued to use their means to make sure whatever legislation passes regarding the controversial topic is still in their favor.16

Despite the skepticism, the NCAA announced in October 2019 that they plan to discuss potential reforms to the current name, image, and likeness rules, and hope to have a new policy and set of rules in place in January 2021.17 While this debate has been going for many years, especially in the world of videogaming and national broadcast television, it will be interesting to see the kinds of reforms that the NCAA will create after years of complete bans.


  1. Dan Wolken, Opinion: Name, image, and likeness debate moves to center stage at this year’s NCAA convention, USA Today (Jan. 19, 2020), [].

  2. Id.

  3. Id.

  4. Robbie Weinstein, NCAA president: Consistent name. image and likeness laws crucial, 24/7 Sports (Feb. 11, 2020), [].

  5. Nancy Skinner & Scott Wilk, In California, we forced the NCAA’s hand on paying athletes. But more states must step up, USA Today (Jan. 15, 2020), [].

  6. Id.

  7. Skinner & Wilk, supra note 5.

  8. Weinstein, supra note 4.

  9. Id.

  10. Id.

  11. Wolken, supra note 1.

  12. Weinstein, supra note 4.[footnote] This came as a surprise, as the NCAA has held a firm ban on athletes receiving any compensation outside of scholarships.[footnote]Jack Kelly, Newly Passed California Fair Pay to Play Act Will Allow Student Athletes To Receive Compensation, Forbes (Oct. 1, 2019), [].

  13. Id.

  14. Weinstein, supra note 4.

  15. Associated Press, NCAA spent $750,000 lobbying Congress to curb potential earnings for college athletes, MarketWatch (Feb. 11, 2020), [].

  16. Id.

  17. Weinstein, supra note 4.

Alexandrea Jacinto

Alexandrea Jacinto is a second-year J.D. candidate at Fordham University School of Law and a staff member of the Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal. She is also a Brendan Moore Trial Advocacy member. She has a B.A. in Government and Law with a minor in History from Lafayette College, where she was Division I varsity athlete.