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Professor Proposes Endorsement Model for Collegiate Student-Athletes

During a Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics meeting Tuesday, Tulane University associate professor Gabe Feldman proposed a model that would alter the National Collegiate Athletic Association's restrictions on collegiate student-athletes receiving compensation for usage of their names, images, and likenesses, or NILs.

The NCAA's current amateurism model prohibits collegiate student-athletes from receiving compensation for endorsements or personal appearances, but Feldman suggested such restrictions "may actually be counterproductive." His model stopped short of recommending a total lift of the ban on compensation for student-athlete likenesses, notably for game-related uses such as broadcasts or photos during a competition, but it would allow student-athletes to receive compensation for use of their persona for non-game-related purposes.

"We should move past the question of 'should we allow student-athletes to be paid for their non-game related [names, images, and likenesses]' to 'how should we allow student-athletes to be paid' while maintaining the prominence of education and the overall mission of the NCAA," Feldman wrote.

To accomplish the latter goal, Feldman recommended restrictions on the types of NIL-related agreements student-athletes could enter into. His proposal would limit such deals to "full-time students in good academic standing" who are "making progress towards a degree." Additionally, he suggested "an institution's staff member or any representative of its athletics interests should not be involved, directly or indirectly, in making arrangements for NIL deals for individual student-athletes." In other words, a coach would be prohibited from setting up endorsement deals for his or her players as part of a way to entice recruits to join that program.

Under Feldman's model, the NCAA would create an "NIL Committee" to "create objective criteria and guidelines to ensure all NIL agreements fit within the overall educational mission of the NCAA and are not otherwise inconsistent with NCAA values and amateurism rules." Schools would be required to oversee all NIL agreements and ensure they upheld the criteria that the committee establishes. Each student-athlete's compensation earned from NIL agreements would be deposited into a university-managed, interest-bearing trust fund until the student-athlete graduates or loses his or her athletic eligibility. Feldman's model would also allow student-athletes to sign agents "to assist with pursuing, evaluating and negotiating Standard NIL Agreements."

It's worth stressing that this framework is a ways away from even being under consideration, much less passing through the NCAA legislative process. Knight Commission chairman William E. Kirwan, the chancellor emeritus of the University System of Maryland, was at least intrigued by the proposal, though.

"The ideas that he presented were quite thought-provoking, and it's something that we will continue to explore," Kirwan said, according to USA Today's Steve Berkowitz.

In recent years, the NCAA's current amateurism model has come under siege, particularly when it comes to its restrictions on student-athlete compensation for usage of names, images and likenesses. In 2014, U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken ruled that the NCAA's NIL rules were in violation of the Sherman Act, which was hailed as a landmark decision at the time. A three-judge panel from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that part of her ruling last October, concluding, "The NCAA's rules have been more restrictive than necessary to maintain its tradition of amateurism in support of the college sports market."

ESPN.com's Jay Bilas has long been in support of allowing collegiate athletes to accept compensation for endorsements, personal appearances, and marketing rights, so long as it isn't coming directly from the school. Joe Nocera of the New York Times likewise threw his support behind such the so-called "Olympic model" earlier this year while proposing a more drastic overhaul of the NCAA's amateurism rules. The concept has picked up steam in recent years, and Feldman's proposal now gives both advocates and critics a firmer sense of what such a model would look like in action.

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