The new score that needs to be kept for college sports

Published October 27, 2022

By Capitol Broadcasting Company

If students who participate in college athletics are to be paid, it should be their colleges and universities they play for that should do it – not outside sponsors and funders. It’s that plain and simple.

We know what it should be, and what it is, are entirely different things.

Regardless of the source of payments to college athletes there should, and must be, full and open disclosure of sources of those payments and recipients of non-school funds.

This is the new kind of score to keep in college sports.

While the quaint facade of a tie between participation in athletics and the collegiate student experience remains, it is little more than a fantasy.

College sports is big business. Last year the Atlantic Coast Conference brought in $578.3 million. The Big Ten has agreements with television networks worth $1 billion a year.

With the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2021 ruling allowing college athletes to receive direct payment for use of their name, image and likeness (NILs), the players who create much of that value are now able to gain some direct benefit. They can earn money signing autographs, doing social media posts on behalf of businesses or services and endorsing products.

It is compensation – above and beyond the millions colleges and athletic conferences are getting -- they are rightly entitled to and should be able to benefit from.

But appropriate questions and concerns are quickly arising – having nothing to do with whether the athletes are deserving, but about the potential appearances of influence these payments could have on the conduct and fairness of competition.

Coaches in the big-time sports like football and basketball, are linking these “NIL” payments to their ability to recruit athletes. While blunter than most, Ohio State Football Coach Ryan Day recently said out loud what many were keeping under wraps.

In a talk last summer to Columbus, Ohio business leaders Day and his athletic director Gene Smith said they needed $13 million in NIL to keep the football team together. Players could be enticed to leave the team with more lucrative NIL offers from those connected with other school’s teams. "One phone call, and they're [players] out the door," Day said. "We cannot let that happen at Ohio State. I'm not trying to sound the alarm, I'm just trying to be transparent about what we're dealing with."

Around the country wealthy alumni are banding together and forming donor collectives, operating outside the university or athletic conference structures, to offer players NIL contracts if they agree to play for certain teams.

Colleges and the athletic conferences have largely left regulation to states and the federal government – though little has been done in those venues.

In North Carolina, a bill calling for study of student-athlete compensation has never even been referred to a committee for a hearing since it was filed in March 2021.

The only “law” in North Carolina regarding this kind of compensation for college athletes is an executive order issued by Gov. Roy Cooper a few weeks after the Supreme Court made them legal. His order bans schools from directly compensating students. It also allows schools, if they choose, to impose certain regulations and limitations on the sources of the compensation to avoid conflicts of interest or hold views that are “antithetical to the values of the institution or that association with a product or brand may negatively impact the image of the institution.”

Further, and significantly, Cooper’s order says schools can “promulgate reasonable rules and regulations regarding the reporting and disclosure requirements as it relates to a student athlete’s receipt of compensation.”

We are not calling for individual students to reveal the exact and precise details of each agreement – though that would be helpful.

This could be done by rules adopted by athletic conferences.

It is time that a new kind of score, beyond winners and losers, is kept.

In the spirit of fair competition and full disclosure, collegiate athletic teams of schools in North Carolina – or teams that compete against those schools – should take it upon themselves to agree to make the following disclosures:

  • Which student athletes are getting NIL payments, how much they receive and the source of those payments.
  • Number of student athletes, by team and sport, who receive compensation from NILs.
  • Total value of the compensation, by team and sport, of the NILs.
  • Names or the sources of the NILs, by team and sport.

No doubt, college sports are big business. But acknowledging the value the athletes bring shouldn’t be an excuse to make the competition unfair.