A group of college basketball players competing in this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament are using March Madness' bright spotlight to push for changes in NCAA rules and federal laws that will provide more protections and opportunities to make money for college athletes.
The players, spearheaded by a trio of Big Ten upperclassmen, plan to protest throughout the tournament on social media using the hashtag #NotNCAAProperty and host panel discussions with athletes and experts to discuss "unjust NCAA rules and ways to ensure college athletes are treated fairly," according to a statement sent on behalf of the group Wednesday night. They did not indicate any plans to boycott games.
The players are being assisted by the National Collegiate Players Association, an advocacy group that also helped organized similar public protests from football players this past summer.
Iowa's Jordan Bohannon, Michigan's Isaiah Livers and Rutgers' Geo Baker first connected via videoconference to discuss these issues last summer. They gathered with a larger group of players and NCPA president Ramogi Huma earlier this week to finalize plans to launch their protest. Players from 15 of the 68 tournament teams have signed up to be a part of the protest.
In a statement Wednesday, the NCPA said the group was calling for the NCAA to change its rules by July 1 to allow players to hire agents and sign endorsement deals. The group also wants meetings with NCAA president Mark Emmert as well as lawmakers at the state and federal levels.
The NCAA has been under increasing pressure to change the rules that prohibit players from profiting off of their names, images and likenesses (NIL). Six states have already passed laws that will make current NCAA amateurism rules illegal in the future, and more than a dozen other states have similar bills actively moving through the legislative process. Those laws will start to go into effect as soon as July 1.
Members of Congress have also proposed several federal laws to reform college sports in a variety of ways, including allowing NIL payments for athletes. The NCAA said in 2019 that it would vote to modernize its NIL rules by no later than January 2021, but it decided at its annual meeting earlier this year to indefinitely postpone a vote on proposed changes.
The U.S. Supreme Court is also expected to weigh in on NCAA amateurism in the coming months. The nation's highest court decided to hear an appeal on a federal lawsuit (Alston v. NCAA) regarding the limits that the NCAA is allowed to place on what benefits schools can provide to their athletes. While the case is not directly related to the NIL debate, the NCAA is arguing that the association -- not any government entity -- should have the power to decide where the line between amateurism and pro sports lies.
The court's ruling could have a significant impact on how legal changes reshape college sports in the coming year. The #NotNCAAProperty group said in its release that is hopes the Supreme Court ruling does not "give the NCAA any power to deny us equal freedoms."
The players started raising awareness for their protest via Twitter on Wednesday afternoon, one day before the NCAA tournament is scheduled to begin.
"The NCAA OWNS my name image and likeness," Baker tweeted. "Someone on music scholarship can profit from an album. Someone on academic scholarship can have a tutor service. For ppl who say 'an athletic scholarship is enough.' Anything less than equal rights is never enough. I am #NotNCAAProperty."
Bohannon was one of several Iowa athletes to speak with legislators in the Hawkeye State about proposed legislation to change NIL laws.
"It's been far too long," he tweeted Wednesday. "Time for our voices to be heard."
The Associated Press contributed to this report