Staff Editorial

It’s Time for the NCAA to let Student-Athletes Cash in on Their Talents

Emily Burdett

Student-athletes go to practice after a day of classes, travel to games almost weekly and go through their respective training regiments. All the while, they bring money into their schools. But NCAA rules say athletes can’t make money from athletic careers.

Many of us remember March Madness 2018 when the Loyola men’s basketball team broke brackets en route to the Final Four. Current and prospective students rushed to the bookstore to buy their NCAA Tournament apparel. Athletics department donations increased 660 percent. Sister Jean became an overnight sensation.

The Ramblers received an estimated $300 million in exposure, The Phoenix reported. The student-athletes didn’t see a dime of it because the NCAA doesn’t allow them to make money off their name, image and likeness, according to NCAA bylaw The bylaw also states jerseys can’t be sold with players’ names on the backs — they can only bear numbers.

Some states, including Illinois, are starting to push back on that rule.

State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (D-Hillside) introduced House Bill 3904 Sept. 30. Welch filed his bill the same day California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a similar bill, which would allow athletes to sign endorsement deals and make money off their name, image and likeness.

The NCAA, naturally, has come out against laws of this type and even threatened to ban California schools from the NCAA Tournament. The NCAA didn’t respond to The Phoenix’s request for comment.

The bill wouldn’t pay student-athletes a salary. Instead, it would give them the choice to take endorsement deals for restaurants or products — which is why Welch said it’d help schools of all sizes.

“I think it helps Loyola, I think it helps DePaul, I think it helps Bradley in Peoria,” Welch told The Phoenix in a phone interview. “At the end of the day, you can say, ‘You can come to Illinois, you’ll be allowed to sign these deals and you can help promote some of our local businesses in town,’ because many of these athletes are big names in these college towns.”

We’re surprised it took this long.

The NCAA — an organization which reportedly made $1.1 billion in 2017 — has a history of making money while not allowing student-athletes to do the same. When swimmer Missy Franklin won four medals at the 2013 International Swimming Federation games, she had to turn down roughly $55,000 so she could compete at the University of California, Berkeley.

Swimmers aren’t the only ones who have to turn down big money so they can compete in college. Katelyn Ohashi, a former gymnast at the University of California, Los Angeles, went viral during the 2019 season for one of her routines. She told The New York Times she wasn’t sure what opportunities she could take because of NCAA rules.

“The NCAA is a billion-dollar industry built on the backs of college athletes,” Ohashi told the Times. “How different would things be for me had I been able to use my image and name my last year of school in order to promote the things I want to further my future? I want to make sure the next person doesn’t have to wonder.”

At this point, it’s a double-edged sword. College athletes are faced with the decision to miss out on big bucks while gaining college experience, or vice versa. To us, neither sounds ideal.

Not to mention, college sports rake in an astounding amount of support and revenue — enough to rival professional sports in some regions during certain seasons. It makes sense to allow college athletes to reap the benefits of their own talent.

One argument against these types of bills is student-athletes are on scholarship and should forgo their eligibility if they want to make money. The counter to this is the time student-athletes put into their sports. It’s not easy, and an endorsement deal shouldn’t impact their “amateur” status. If they’d get paid salaries, that’s another story. 

It’s great that Illinois and other states are following California’s lead. If the NCAA and the athletics programs are going to make money off student-athletes’ performances, those athletes should also have a chance to make some cash.

For some of these student-athletes, college might be their only opportunity to make money competing in sports. It’s time for Illinois and the nation as a whole recognize the incomparable talent and worth these college athletes possess. 

Without the opportunity to make a profit, college athletes only reap a fraction of the benefits of their own worth.

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