Perspective: NCAA Strives To Rethink Amateurism

by Evan Joseph ‘23

The founders of the NCAA defined amateur college athletes as students who participated in athletics solely for their own enjoyment and development of their mental and physical skills. In the beginning, they did not even foresee athletic scholarships for athletes in their plan. The NCAA stood behind its enforcement of amateurism since it was first established more than a century ago, but now collegiate sports are undergoing an unprecedented number of changes after abandoning one of their long-standing policies. One of these changes results in college athletes being permitted to receive compensation for their name, image, and likeness (NIL), providing them with opportunities like endorsements and sponsorships that they previously would be punished by the NCAA for accepting.

This was made possible in June of 2021 when the Supreme Court ruled unanimously against the NCAA in the case NCAA v. Alston, deciding the NCAA could no longer restrict the education-related payment of student-athletes. The decision led the NCAA to defer to state laws on NIL. The change has benefited many, but the NCAA missed out on implementing policies key to the success of NIL which could lead to disaster.

For the NCAA to remain successful, it must preserve a competitive atmosphere across all sports to maximize its entertainment value and profit. This competitive atmosphere has been put at risk due to NIL promoting a “pay for play” like culture, causing a favorable advantage for bigger schools when recruiting due to their access to large groups of supporters with deep pockets known as collectives. These collectives are mostly companies whose founders are alumni of whichever college they are supporting and use their companies to provide financial compensation to college athletes in exchange for use of their name, image, and likeness.

Since larger schools continue to be able to offer more to student-athletes, the disadvantage for smaller schools with fewer resources worsens. The bad part about this is that as the gap in talent between schools grows, the quality of entertainment suffers. Last May, the NCAA attempted to crack down on this and level the playing field by releasing new guidelines classifying collectives as boosters (which are prohibited by NCAA already). The problem with this is many legal experts question the NCAA’s ability to levy sanctions in this area and believe it would violate antitrust law yet again. If this were to happen, the problem would only become worse as schools across the country see that the NCAA can not hold them back from using their resources.

Although people’s lives have been improved through the allowance of NIL deals for college athletes, the NCAA could face further exploitation if it is not able to prevent unfair recruiting practices from bigger colleges with more