Pressured by a wave of state laws taking effect on July 1, the college sports industry is on the verge of letting players profit off their names, images and likenesses.
A powerful group of college sports leaders recommended Monday that student-athletes be allowed for the first time to earn money from autograph signings, personal appearances, endorsements and their social media platforms, which would be a groundbreaking shift that could see players earn millions of dollars.
The policy, put forward by a National Collegiate Athletic Association committee, comes as the organization faces demands to move away from its longstanding position that athletes should, at most, be allowed to receive scholarships and stipends for some living costs.
A final decision by the N.C.A.A.’s Division I Board of Directors, which largely includes university chancellors and presidents, is expected on Wednesday. But approval is widely anticipated, and the new approach would go into effect the next day.
Much of the immediate pressure is coming from eight states, which starting Thursday will give athletes the opportunity to earn money off their fame, no matter what the N.C.A.A. does. Last week, a Supreme Court ruling left the N.C.A.A. more vulnerable to antitrust cases brought in connection to athletes’ payments.
Some athletes have already begun making plans to cash in on their renown. Jordan Bohannon, a men’s basketball player at the University of Iowa, has announced plans for an apparel line that will debut on Thursday, and the University of Wisconsin’s starting quarterback, Graham Mertz, posted a video with a personal logo.
Most athletes are expected to earn modest sums, if anything at all. But the highest-profile players — the likely professional stars of the future — could earn hundreds of thousands of dollars before they join the big leagues. The loosened rules are also expected to increase financial opportunities for women, who enjoy loyal audiences as college athletes but typically make much less money than men if they turn professional.
Some industry experts expect the most prominent players to charge $1,000 or more an hour for endorsement work or appearances. Many athletes’ value will be closely connected to their online presences; Paige Bueckers, the women’s basketball star at Connecticut, has more than 829,000 followers on Instagram, for instance, while Spencer Rattler, a quarterback at Oklahoma, has more than 370,000.
The proposed rules were recommended Monday by an N.C.A.A. panel called the Division I Council, a group that includes conference commissioners and athletic directors. Under the suggested guidance, students nationwide will generally not face N.C.A.A. repercussions, like a loss of eligibility for athletics, for profiting off their names, images or likenesses. Schools in many states are expected to set policies around matters like whether students may wear a university’s logo in an advertisement.
As in the past, universities will not be allowed to pay salaries to players, and athletes will not be permitted to accept money from anyone in exchange for enrolling at a particular school.
The proposed policy is intended as a temporary fix until permanent rules are written or Congress intervenes. It would apply only to universities in Division I, which has more than 170,000 student-athletes and features the richest and most famous leagues in college sports, including the Power 5: the Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern conferences. Officials in Divisions II and III, which together include about 750 schools and more than 320,000 players, are expected to vote on similar plans this week.
“It’s a recognition that we have to adjust our business practices as it relates to student-athletes,” Richard J. Ensor, the commissioner of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference since 1988, said of the approach.
N.C.A.A. leaders were “in a position where they had to build a policy that allowed us to start reacting to the reality, but recognizing that there’s a lot to be learned over the next months and we’ll need to adjust as it goes along” Ensor said.
In October, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, which is separate from the N.C.A.A. and includes about 77,000 student-athletes at mostly smaller schools, voted to let players earn money for public appearances and endorsements.
Leaders of the N.C.A.A. insisted for months that they were eager to move forward with new guidelines to allow players greater economic opportunities. And while it is true that many leading figures in athletics have urged the 115-year-old association to loosen its longstanding restrictions, the college sports industry is acting now largely because it has very little choice.
Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio and Texas all have laws or executive orders coming into effect on Thursday that will allow college athletes to earn money. More than a dozen other states have passed similar measures with later effective dates. But Congress, in a setback to the N.C.A.A., has not reached an agreement to override the state statutes and offer a national standard in federal law.
Although many administrators still hope that the federal government will eventually act, an array of state laws without any kind of national policy in place threatened to create advantages for some teams over others. Schools in states with legal guarantees that students could potentially earn money, the reasoning went, would be better positioned to recruit prospective players, tilting the greatest future talents toward a handful of schools. The N.C.A.A.’s decision to intervene, executives hope, will stave off the worst potential disparities for at least a short time.
Still, the route to Monday’s recommendation was speckled with infighting, caution, threats and last-minute maneuvering. No recent development was more consequential than a Supreme Court ruling last week that undercut the N.C.A.A.’s approach to antitrust law and pushed the industry toward conceding more rights to athletes than top executives once anticipated.
The case, N.C.A.A. v. Alston, was narrowly focused on education-related benefits like academic awards and paid internships, but the court’s unanimous ruling stripped away some of the legal precedent that the association and its members relied upon for protection for decades. The decision unnerved college sports officials, many of them already drained by seemingly endless court battles, and deepened concerns that a set of strict N.C.A.A. rules around athletes’ use of their names, images and likenesses would invite more legal challenges and, perhaps, more resounding defeats.
But many of those officials were also alarmed by the prospect of the N.C.A.A. taking no action as the state laws loomed. In a memo last week that appeared designed to assuage those fears, Mark Emmert, the N.C.A.A. president, said executives were working “to develop interim solutions.”
On Monday, the association moved closer to delivering on those ambitions. But the N.C.A.A. also made it clear that nothing would be final until, at least, the day before the industry was going to change anyway.