College sports is in the midst of its most significant changes in a generation. Current athletes, the NCAA, state legislators and members of Congress have all proposed rules that would provide athletes with varying degrees of new protections and opportunities to make money by selling their name, image and likeness (NIL) rights while playing in college.
Who will get the final say in those new rules? How expansive will the new opportunities be? Those questions will be settled in the spring and summer of 2021, and the space below will be dedicated to providing you with the most up-to-date and in-depth information on that process.
Jump to a section: Calendar | Timeline | Legislation | The start
A group of college basketball players competing in this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament are using March Madness’ bright spotlight to push for changes in NCAA rules and federal laws that will provide more protections and opportunities to make money for college athletes.
The players, spearheaded by a trio of Big Ten upperclassmen, plan to protest throughout the tournament on social media using the hashtag #NotNCAAProperty and host panel discussions with athletes and experts to discuss “unjust NCAA rules and ways to ensure college athletes are treated fairly,” according to a statement sent on behalf of the group Wednesday night. They did not indicate any plans to boycott games. The players are calling for the NCAA to make changes to its name, image and likeness rules by July 1 and have also asked for meetings with NCAA president Mark Emmert, President Joe Biden’s administration and legislators at the state and federal level to discuss a variety of reform efforts.
Calendar: What comes next
March 31: The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the Alston v. NCAA antitrust case. While the case isn’t directly related to name, image and likeness legislation, the question in front of the justices could play a role in how laws are formed later this year. The NCAA is arguing that it should be in charge of defining the line between amateurism and pro sports. The justice’s decision and the language they use in sharing it could prove to be influential in future legal battles. The Supreme Court is expected to publish its decision sometime before the end of June.
April 29: President Biden’s 100th day in office. Members of Congress have said that it’s highly unlikely that a federal NIL law will be discussed during Biden’s first 100 days. It’s not clear exactly when college sports reform might be on the agenda for debate.
July 1: Florida’s law is scheduled to go into effect. Athletes who attend school in Florida would be able to start accepting endorsement deals on this date. The NCAA might file a lawsuit against the state of Florida before July 1 and ask a judge for an injunction that, if granted, could postpone the law’s enactment.
Timeline: How we got here
Sept. 30, 2019: California passes legislation introduced by Sen. Nancy Skinner that will, starting in 2023, prohibit schools from punishing athletes who accept endorsement money while in college. The NCAA called the legislation an “existential threat” to college amateur sports when it was introduced months earlier.
Oct. 29, 2019: The NCAA’s board of governors agrees unanimously that it is time to modernize its name, image and likeness rules. The board directs all three NCAA divisions to make rules by January 2021 that allow athletes to make endorsement money while maintaining “the collegiate model.”
April 29, 2020: A working group appointed by the NCAA lays out its suggestions for how Division I should change its rules, including details about the opportunities and restrictions for future athlete deals. The Division I Council formally submitted these proposed changes in November 2020 with plans to put them to a vote in January 2021.
June 12, 2020: Florida passes its state law with a scheduled effective date of July 1, 2021, that significantly decreases the time to create a uniform national solution.
July 22, 2020: Emmert, the NCAA president, repeats a request for congressional help in creating a federal NIL law while appearing at a Senate hearing in Washington, D.C. Several senators urged Emmert and the NCAA to broaden the scope of their reform efforts if they wanted help from Capitol Hill.
Aug. 2, 2020: A group of Pac-12 football players threatens to boycott the season while sharing a list of demands that included giving players a share of athletic department revenue. A similar group of national stars formed a week later and stated its intent to form a college football players’ association in the future.
Sept. 24, 2020: Reps. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio, and Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., introduce a federal bill that would allow for NIL deals with some restrictions in hopes of keeping endorsements from disrupting the recruiting process.
Dec. 10, 2020: Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., introduces federal legislation that would allow for some NIL deals and also create an antitrust exemption that would protect the NCAA from some types of future lawsuits.
Dec. 16, 2020: The Supreme Court agreed to hear the NCAA’s appeal of a federal judge’s ruling in the Alston v. NCAA antitrust lawsuit. While not directly related to NIL rules, the Supreme Court’s decision in this case could impact how much control the NCAA has in defining amateurism in the future.
Dec. 17, 2020: Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., introduce legislation calling for a wide-reaching overhaul of NCAA rules and college sports governance.
Jan. 11, 2021: The NCAA’s Division 1 Council decides to indefinitely delay its vote on name, image and likeness rules, citing concerns prompted by a letter from the Department of Justice related to the possible antitrust implications of changing its rules. Emmert, the NCAA president, said he was “frustrated and disappointed” by the delay.
Feb. 4, 2021: Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Rep. Lori Trahan, D-Mass., introduce federal legislation that would create a completely unrestricted market for college athlete endorsement deals.
The NCAA has asked Congress for help in creating a federal NIL law. While several federal options have been proposed, it’s becoming increasingly likely that state laws will start to go into effect before a nationwide change is made. There are six states with NIL laws already in place and more than a dozen others that are actively pursuing legislation.
States with laws in place
California — Passed: September 2019. Goes into effect: Jan. 1, 2023.
Colorado — Passed: March 2020. Goes into effect: Jan. 1, 2023.
Florida — Passed: June 2020. Goes into effect: July 1, 2021.
Michigan — Passed: December 2020. Goes into effect: Dec. 31, 2022.
Nebraska — Passed: July 2020. Goes into effect: No later than July 1, 2023 (schools can implement new policy at any time).
New Jersey — Passed: September 2020. Goes into effect: September 2025.
States with bills in legislative process
There are 16 other states with bills actively moving through the legislative process: Alabama (earliest proposed effective date: 2023), Arizona (2021), Iowa (2021), Kansas (2022), Maryland (2023), Massachusetts (2022), Mississippi (2021), Montana (2023), New Mexico (2021), New York (2021), North Carolina (2024), Pennsylvania (2021), Rhode Island (2022), Tennessee (2023), Texas (2023), West Virginia (2021).
Where it all started
Dan Murphy explains the landmark “Fair Pay to Play Act,” which would allow financial compensation for collegiate athletes in California.