The subject of Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) has become a bit topic of discussion in collegiate sports of late. In case you’re not aware, up to now under NCAA rules student-athletes were not able to profit from their personal notoriety, reputation, and following. That has all changed.

Now, while student-athletes still may not be paid to play by their school (though I have argued they are defacto professionals under the scholarship structure), they can earn sponsorship and related income. Essentially, they’re now like any professional athlete in that regard. This was the topic of discussion for the latest episode of the MasterCoaches Weekly Buzz.

The death of the NCAA

There are those who call this move the death of the NCAA. That is because a central tenant of the NCAA has always been amateurism. Honestly, this is something that should have been torn down years ago.

Amateurism is a legacy of the days when organized sports were “a gentleman’s game”. That means male, of course, and dominated by the well-to-do. Watch the Netflix series The English Game to see the pro/amateur tension in soccer in the 1880s. The NCAA formed in 1906. Who went to college in those days? Mainly those from the upper echelons.

The Olympics is another organization that had amateurism at its core, but that went away decades ago. It was a joke because you could have the likes of the Soviet hockey team where members clearly made a living as athletes, but didn’t play in a professional league. This is why it’s the Miracle on Ice, as it was the Soviet pros against the USA college kids. NHL players weren’t eligible back then.

The NCAA has long claimed that amateurism keeps the focus on education. Athletes are supposed to be students first. This is why they put hour limits on athlete participation (20 hours/week during the season). It’s also why they have academic eligibility and progress standards. That begs the question then what amateurism has to do with anything.

Personally, I think the NCAA will continue it’s steady slide toward having less control over college athletics. Power has already begun moving toward the conferences. It could very well just end up focused on running championships, which is how it started.

The death of college sports

Some folks think NIL marks the end of college sports. They don’t actually think sports will go away, but rather there will be the haves and the have nots which will fundamentally change things. That’s already the case, though.

In women’s volleyball only 8 teams have won the Division I championship since 1999. And only three teams (Nebraska, Penn State, Stanford) account for 16 of them. Only two teams not from either the Big 10 or the PAC-12 (Texas and Kentucky) have won the championship in that time period, and in more than half the finals both teams were from one or the other of those conferences.

But the level playing field thing is really much more about the conference level. Teams come together in conferences because they feel they have a matching set of priorities and comparable resources. This inherently means there is imbalance between conferences. A league where the schools average 1000-2000 students is very different from one where enrollment is in the 10s of thousands.

And that brings up the truth of college sports – that they are marketing vehicles for the schools. In places it’s about enrolling student-athletes. Think smaller schools where athletes represent a sizeable fraction of the student body. Elsewhere, a strong athletic program is a selling point for general enrollment. The schools know this. Until such time as they don’t see a return in the investment that goes into it, they will continue to sponsor athletic programs.

So no, I don’t see college sports dying any time soon.

Changes are coming

All the above said, change is inevitable. Even the NCAA, which doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being nimble and forward-looking, knows things can’t carry on as they have been. They announced a “constitutional convention” last week. It’s scheduled for November. The intention is to talk “…about wholesale transformation…” of the organization and how it operates. That should be interesting to observe!

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

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