Their Name, But Not Their Property

Photo via: USA Today Sports

The NCAA continues to restrict players rights to their own name, image, and likeness

Hashtags have become the posters of protest for the internet. Movements that once were marched on the grounds of cities are now being championed on social media. March Madness NCAA athletes are tweeting with the hashtag #NotNCAAProperty. With the world’s most famous basketball tournament taking place and everyone but NCAA athletes profiting off their own Name, Image and Likeness (NIL), change is imminent.

The #NotNCAAProperty movement picked up steam through tweets from a trio of athletes, Geo Baker of Rutgers, Jordan Bohannon of Iowa, and Isaiah Livers of Michigan. The athletes are fighting to profit off of their NIL. Yet, the NCAA acts as if athletes do not own the rights to their own names. NCAA athletes, in this instance, are not asking to be paid a salary or hourly wage. The athletes are merely asking to be compensated for the use of their own NIL. According to the NCAA’s official website, the NCAA stands to profit approximately $867.5m off of the March Madness Tournament. However, participating athletes do not earn enough money to pay for a $1 Arizona Iced Tea at 7-11.

On Wednesday, Baker ignited the movement, tweeting, “The NCAA OWNS my name image and likeness. 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”.

Baker is right. Every opponent of player compensation argues that a scholarship should be enough. But why? Why can a non-student-athlete earn money on social media using their NIL on TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, or YouTube? Why does the NCAA get to decide that athletes’ earning potential should be capped?  We do not restrict other students from earning money using their NIL. Clearly, the NCAA knows it is wrong. The California District Court knows it is improper to use collegiate athletes’ NIL in NCAA video games without compensating the athletes per their ruling in O’Bannon v. NCAA. If it were not wrong, Electronic Arts Sports (EA) would not create the new NCAA football video game without players’ NIL. In short, everyone, including the NCAA, knows restricting athletes from receiving compensation for their NIL is wrong.

Athletes are frustrated. Bohannon followed with a tweet saying, “It’s been far too long. Time for our voices to be heard. #NotNCAAProperty.” In a sense, tweets like this are following the wave of oppressed voices in our country. Enough is enough with silencing voices of weaker communities by wealthy entities. Three minutes later, Livers followed with a tweet, simply saying, “I am #NotNCAAProperty.”

Athletes are aware that salary or hourly compensation is a tall order. Asking to receive compensation for social media posts, company endorsements, meet and greet signings, and jerseys with an athlete’s name on the back is not a full-court heave. If anything, it is a fast-break dunk.

Baker laid out the desires of NCAA athletes perfectly, tweeting the #NotNCAAProperty along with four demands. (1) NCAA rules allowing for representation and permission for NIL compensation; (2) A meeting with NCAA President Mark Emmert; (3) Meetings with both state and federal legislators to pass laws, giving student-athletes physical, academic, and financial protections; and (4) Supreme Court of The United States (SCOTUS) to rule in favor of the plaintiffs in the ongoing case, Alston v. NCAA in order to restrict the NCAA from denying athletes equal freedoms.

On these demands, NCAA President Emmert told AP News earlier this week that he is hopeful that the NCAA will have uniform national NIL rules prior to the start of NCAA football in the fall. Emmert emphasized the importance of NIL issues by saying he canceled an anniversary vacation with his wife in order to work on them. Hopefully, NCAA athletes can mark the summer of 2021 as the first anniversary of receiving NIL compensation.

Concerning the Alston case, SCOTUS is hearing oral arguments on March 31. If SCOTUS rules in favor of Alston, NCAA athletes may receive unlimited education-based benefits. In other words, the NCAA is going to see amateurism rules change dramatically. The NIL rule change would merely be one piece of the pie for student-athletes to receive compensation from.

NIL laws have been passed in Florida (July 2021), Michigan (2022), California (2023), Colorado (2023), Nebraska (2023), and New Jersey (2025). Other states such as Alabama, Iowa, Maryland, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, and Texas are picking up momentum in the legislature to pass their own NIL laws.

With athletes such as Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson tweeting out small rations of food and women’s NCAA basketball athletes finding themselves in gym facilities equivalent to that of the Red Roof Inn, the NCAA is close to being benched. Let us hope the NCAA can clean up its act, compensate players, feed them properly, and provide the women with proper facilities.

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