The NCAA Board of Governors has unanimously approved a policy which will “permit students participating in athletics the opportunity to benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.”

The policy calls for “flexibility” in order “to provide the best possible experience for college athletes.” It was adopted following “comprehensive recommendations” from the NCAA’s internal working group on name, image, and likeness issues headed by Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman and senior college administrator Gene Smith. According to the statement released by the NCAA, the working group’s recommendations were based on several months of gathering feedback from stakeholders, including current and former student-athletes, coaches, presidents, faculty and commissioners across all three NCAA divisions.

It is interesting to note the NCAA announcement did not refer to the ability of student-athletes to “profit” from these policy changes, but rather for student-athletes to “benefit” from the use of their name, image and likeness.

The statement also indicates that the internal working group will continue to gather feedback and refine its recommendations through April of 2020. Each NCAA division is asked to

“create any new rules beginning immediately, but no later than January 2021.”

The statement does not provide specific details regarding the policy; however, it indicates that changes to NCAA rules could occur “immediately.” Of significant note is that the policy directs each of the NCAA’s three divisions to consider these proposed bylaw and policy changes “for the 21st century.”

In effect, the NCAA is attempting to eliminate the state-by-state legislative issue regarding name, image and likeness rights by requiring each NCAA division to prepare these bylaw updates on a nationwide basis, that would apply equally to all schools in each division, regardless of the school’s specific state location.

To that end, the NCAA issued the following guidelines for modernizing name, image, and likeness rules:

  • Assure student-athletes are treated similarly to non-athlete students unless a compelling reason exists to differentiate.
  • Maintain the priorities of education and the collegiate experience to provide opportunities for student-athlete success.
  • Ensure rules are transparent, focused and enforceable and facilitate fair and balanced competition.
  • Make clear the distinction between collegiate and professional opportunities.
  • Make clear that compensation for athletics performance or participation is impermissible.
  • Reaffirm that student-athletes are students first and not employees of the university.
  • Enhance principles of diversity, inclusion and gender equity.
  • Protect the recruiting environment and prohibit inducements to select, remain at, or transfer to a specific institution.

In reaction of the NCAA’s new policy, NCAA President Mark Emmert commented, “The NCAA is uniquely positioned to modify its rules to ensure fairness and a level playing field for student-athletes. The board’s action creates a path to enhance opportunities for student-athletes while ensuring they compete against students and not professionals.”

Jackson Lewis’ Collegiate and Professional Sorts Practice Group will continue to monitor the various issues arising from the NCAA’s Board of Governors regarding the rights of student-athletes to benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness. Please feel free to reach out to any member of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group with questions.



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Photo of Gregg E. Clifton Gregg E. Clifton

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in…

Gregg E. Clifton is a Principal in the Phoenix, Arizona, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is Co-Leader of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Practice Group and serves as the editor of the firm’s sports law blog.

Mr. Clifton has extensive experience in the collegiate and professional sports world. He has advised numerous professional franchises on general labor and employment issues, including Title III ADA regulatory compliance and wage and hour issues. He serves as lead counsel for several Major League Baseball teams in their salary arbitration matters and has represented NCAA and NAIA collegiate clients regarding rules compliance, investigatory matters and in disciplinary hearings. In addition, he has handled Title IX investigations and compliance issues for NCAA and NAIA member institutions. Mr. Clifton has also worked extensively in the area of agent regulation and enforcement in professional and college sports and regularly provides counsel on issues relating to NCAA and NAIA amateurism issues and athlete eligibility questions. He has also served as an expert witness in matters involving sports agents’ work and responsibilities, as well as athlete compensation issues.

Prior to joining Jackson Lewis, he spent six years as Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Team Sports for Gaylord Sports Management. He also served as President of the Athlete and Entertainment Division for famed sports attorney Bob Woolf’s firm, Woolf Associates, in Boston.

Mr. Clifton began his career as an Associate at Jackson Lewis where he focused his practice on traditional labor law. He continues to counsel clients in the areas of collective bargaining negotiations, representation cases, arbitrations and National Labor Relations Board matters.

Mr. Clifton frequently serves as an expert speaker to law schools, including Harvard University, Boston College, Hofstra University and Arizona State University, and bar associations regarding sports law issues, including agent regulation and salary arbitration. He is also often cited as an expert source in national news media for his commentary and opinion on legal issues in sports.