Mark Emmert: 'Clear consensus' on need to change athlete-pay rules

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- NCAA president Mark Emmert said a consensus is growing among college sports leaders that college athletes will soon be allowed to make money from business ventures that aren't directly related to their athletic ability.

Emmert focused his comments at his annual "state of college sports" address at the NCAA convention Thursday evening around the ongoing debate over the ability of college athletes to profit from their name, image or likeness. He said he sees the issue as the "symptom of a bigger debate about the inherent fairness of college sports." He believes the organization's members are getting closer to changing their rules to try to make them more fair for athletes.

The committee weighing the NCAA's options on the future of name, image and likeness rules this week broke their discussion into three main areas: individual licensing, group licensing and "work product." The third category -- which includes things like athletes teaching lessons, running their own businesses or monetizing a social media following -- is the most likely area to change in the near future.

"I think there's a clear consensus that we need to get those rules changed," Emmert said Thursday. "That, again, is making things look more like and feel more like you're a regular student."

NCAA rules currently prohibit students from making any money from those types of business ventures without a specific waiver from the national office of the organization. Pressure from state and federal legislators during the past year has pushed the NCAA to reconsider the ways in which college athletes will be allowed to make money from the growing industry of college sports.

NCAA leaders are concerned that allowing a free market for athletes to make endorsement money will end up creating a scenario where boosters are paying athletes as part of the recruitment process. Emmert said the details of how to prevent the "work product" opportunities from creating the same problems are yet to be determined.

"How do you determine what the real marketplace is?" Emmert said. "How do you manage that? How do you police that? I think the [groups working on the issue are] making some really good strides in that direction."

Emmert said he did not know if the NCAA would regulate that market or if it would ask a third party to be in charge of that process. The National College Players Association, a non-profit aimed at advocating for college athletes and an outspoken critic of the NCAA, published a paper last week saying that it is in a better position to make sure it is representing the interest of athletes in future discussions about money-making opportunities. Emmert urged NCAA delegates at this year's convention to make sure they were keeping the well-being of athletes at the forefront of all their decisions and acknowledged that many critics believe the organization has conflicts of interest that keep it from acting in the best interest of athletes.

The group working through the details of name, image and likeness issues is expected to present a report and potential proposals to the NCAA's board of governors in April. Under the normal NCAA timeline for creating rules, those new rules would not be in place until January 2021, but Emmert said the board may move faster on some items if there is a reason to do so.

Several state legislatures are in the process of considering state laws that would make it illegal for colleges in their states to enforce the NCAA's current restrictions on players making endorsement money. California has already passed a law to that end that will go into effect in 2023. Some other states are pressing to enact legislation as early as this coming summer.

Emmert said he has been working with members of Congress for much of the past year to ask for help in creating a national law that would make uniform rules for college sports in different states and allow the NCAA to maintain some control over policing the new market for college athletes.

"Clearly people in Washington want to know what the desires are of college sports, and we need to work with them to help figure that out," Emmert said.