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Martin Center Column Explores Big NCAA Changes

William Anderson writes for the Martin Center about major changes for college sports’ governing agency.

Fifty years ago, I entered the University of Tennessee-Knoxville as a freshman scholarship runner on its high-profile track team. The NCAA held athletes to a strict amateur code in which compensation to athletes was limited to in-kind payments of room, board, books, and fees. The term “illegally paying players” meant sneaking in extra amenities including though not limited to cars, special benefits, and the “$50 handshakes” from boosters, all of which could get a university’s athletic programs onto NCAA probation.

With National Association of Collegiate Athletics v. Alston, the U.S. Supreme Court guaranteed huge changes in collegiate sports, and with the subsequent decision by the NCAA to permit college athletes to sell their names, images, and likeness (NIL), there is no going back to the old system. “Paying players” takes on new meaning.

Within days of that decision, athletes who received only traditional scholarships suddenly are signing six-and-seven-figure deals with marketing companies and other outfits. …

… Some athletes who before had to write home for spending money suddenly are going to have a net worth greater than most of their professors (and some of their coaches), and while it is difficult to know exactly how all of this will play out in the future, it is clear that college sports have been greatly changed. …

… With government-sponsored cartels, the stronger firms tend to dominate the organization and set the rules. Dominant football programs in the NCAA for years have ensured that they would stay on top by selective enforcement of the rules, making sure that upstarts cannot advance into the upper echelons. …

… The NCAA and the world of college sports have lived with this arrangement for many years but with the recent NIL ruling by SCOTUS and with the NCAA quickly falling into line, college sports programs now are in uncharted territory. However, while there will be developments that people cannot easily predict right now, questions will arise, the most important being: Will the new NIL policies make overall college athletics more competitive—or will they further cement the dominance of the powerful conferences and teams?

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...