Atlantic 10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade doesn’t use the word paid. In her job, it’s best to choose your words carefully. McGlade does have a clear position on the current hot-button issue in college sports: whether college athletes should be compensated for use of their name, image, and likeness.
It’s one thing for a state legislator or governor or athlete or coach to say yes on this issue.
A commissioner of a pretty big-time college sports league veering from ancient conventional wisdom on the college amateurism model shows how far we’ve quickly come and where we’re going.
“I think that under the NCAA rules and umbrella, there should be some consideration for more permissive legislation as it relates to a student-athlete who could potentially monetize their name, image, and likeness," McGlade, a Gloucester City native, said in an interview last week at the A-10 media day.
Tuesday, the landscape officially changed, when the NCAA’s board of governors voted to permit students “the opportunity to benefit from the use of their name, image, and likeness in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.”
What does that mean? To be determined. On the one hand, “assure student-athletes are treated similarly to non-athlete students unless a compelling reason exists to differentiate.” On the other hand, “make clear the distinction between collegiate and professional opportunities.” And, “make clear that compensation for athletics performance or participation is impermissible. ... prohibit inducements to select, remain at, or transfer to a specific institution."
McGlade had made this point: “When there are opportunities that are clearly market-driven, whether that be the opportunity — you take the Notre Dame female basketball player [Arike Ogunbowale] who had the opportunity to go do Dancing With the Stars, those types of things. Obviously, she’s not turning pro and being paid for that, but her athletic skill and ability is somewhat in play. I do think we have to address that within the organization."
Talking about those who want to see a pay-for-play model beyond scholarships, McGlade said in her mind it can’t become an employer-employee model. “If you really want to go down that road, then, in all honesty, the scholarships would go away. You start doing it market-driven, then that’s a totally different animal.”
Some would argue, what’s wrong with that?
“NCAA scholarships for student-athletes is the single largest scholarship program in the country, with the exception of the GI Bill," McGlade said. “I mean, the amount of tuition and scholarship money flowing back to every state’s college and university is in the billions.”
Back to name, image, and likeness. Let’s throw an example out there. Villanova’s Kris Jenkins hit a shot that won the 2016 NCAA title. Nothing prevented his senior teammates, out of eligibility, from going to autograph shows.
“They’re done," McGlade agreed.
Jenkins had a year left to play at Villanova. Seniors could make money from signing a photo of his shot.
Is that a market-driven example?
“I think that’s a market-driven example," McGlade said. “But, it has to happen under the umbrella of the NCAA."
New Jersey just joined the party, introducing a bill Thursday that would allow compensation for endorsements. (It also calls for athletes to be able to hire an agent or attorney.) Pennsylvania and other states offered up similar bills recently after California Gov. Gavin Newsom last month signed a law requiring that compensation for name, image or likeness be allowed starting in 2023.
One of the NCAA’s responses was the definition of tone-deaf, saying that California schools could be banned from competing in NCAA competitions. Tuesday’s announcement was the opposite of that thought. McGlade sees this all as an important step.
“I don’t think all these state rules — you can’t have every state with a different set of rules," McGlade said. “It’s got to be one unified rule. And there’s got to be some accountability.”
Each athlete not only has his or her own value …
“But there’s a value in that university on your chest," McGlade said.
A tricky gray area, she said.
“We all go through copyright and licensing deals," the commissioner said. “If we want to use one of our university’s logos for today’s media luncheon, that is not being sold. We’re not trying to sell T-shirts. But if we were trying to commercialize that, then we have to pay a licensing fee. An individual student-athlete would have to cross all those bridges.”
Flip side: This points out, the school is making money. No need to pretend a pure amateur model is in play.
“It’s complicated," McGlade said. “It’s not as easy as saying there’s this open, free market. The NCAA, to their credit, are approving a lot of the waivers that are being submitted. For instance, the Notre Dame basketball player. She didn’t go on Dancing With the Stars wearing her Notre Dame jersey.”
Could every booster get in the endorsement business? Instead of the old cliché about the $100 handshake, now there’s a $1,000 autograph? Tuesday’s announcement clearly stands against that.
“You know, there’s a counter to that, too," McGlade said. “Again, boosters that are very successful. … You certainly have individuals who are uber, uber-wealthy. But every car dealer in the local town, at the end of the day, how long are they going to stay in business if they have 20 football players coming out there trying to sell cars for them, and they’re not selling cars? To think there’s going to be this significant transfer of money to the student-athletes for not doing anything — the reality of that — I think it’s a little more fabricated than real.”
Another counter: So what? If a booster decides an autograph is worth a big number, then that is the market.
“I think if there is more permissiveness legislation in place, there would be an obligation," McGlade said. “Let’s face it, a scholarship, there are certain obligations. They have to go to class, they have to go to practice, they have to go to study hall.”
“They’re working," McGlade said, not running away from that thought. “So there has to be an accountability on that. … We all have to account for our finances. We all have to pay taxes every year. It can’t just be an unchecked opportunity.”
Getting all these issues into changed legislation . . . It will be interesting.
“We just bumped into six or seven real issues that they’re trying to navigate," McGlade said in about a 10-minute conversation. “I do think there’s a massive amount of misinformation out there. … And the number of copycat proposals. These are state legislatures that aren’t [all] even in session. Half of what we’re reading about, they’re not even in session.”
But that also tells you which way the wind has already blown. These issues existed decades ago.
Maybe 10 years from now, McGlade added, we’ll look back and say any change isn’t really overly permissive.