NIL rules look to promote change for Southern athletes

Tea Carter – Copy Editor

Many female athletes at Southern and other universities feel as if they compete in the shadow of male sports teams that receive far more attention — from better game times, to presence of cheerleaders to funding.

However, for some female athletes, the NCAA’s recent decision to allow student-athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness (NIL) presents an opportunity to level the playing field with men’s sports.

“There’s always equality issues between funding for different sports and notoriety of male players over females,” said graduate student Allie Smith, who is the starting goalkeeper for the women’s soccer team. “If anything, this will provide more opportunities for the lesser-known sports of a university.”

Smith is referring to a chance for all athletes — regardless of their athletic program’s funding — to earn royalties based on the use of their NIL to generate revenue for their university.

Late in October, the NCAA governing board voted unanimously to change the organization’s long-standing definition of amateurism in collegiate sports. Currently, to maintain their amateur status, college athletes cannot receive money for promoting or endorsing products, for their performance or even to offset training expenses.

The NCAA’s decision came amidst national pressure to modernize, namely from California state legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom, who passed a law allowing athletes within the state to profit from their NIL and protecting them from any NCAA retaliation.

Although the NCAA has only taken the first step in instructing each division to reform its bylaws regarding amateurism, the athletic department and athletes at Southern have started preparing for big changes.

Athletic departments will likely take on an “additional burden” when athletes’ pay eventually falls under the oversight of compliance administrators, said Southern’s associate director of Athletic Compliance Matthew Letkowski.

“I anticipate student-athletes will need to report all earnings, along with who they got it from and what work was performed to accept such income,” Letkowski said.

This new burden is not overly concerning to Letkowski, though, as Southern would need to make other changes in order for its athletes to be paid for their NIL. According to Letkowski, even if NCAA rules changed today, no student-athletes up to this point would have had an opportunity to earn royalties, as Southern does not currently hold any television contracts, sell jerseys or promote events using athletes.

Some student-athletes said they hope Southern does make the necessary changes to give them a chance to earn money outside of scholarship dollars.

“Even though we work just as hard, we wouldn’t be able to get paid for playing our sports,” said John Wells, a redshirt junior and tight end for the football team. “I think a lot of people would be fed up about that.”

Like Smith, senior outside hitter for the volleyball team Jillian Chambers sees the rule changes as a chance for women’s and lesser-funded sports to earn a fairer share.

“Some people at the school are fortunate enough to have full scholarships, but there are a bunch of athletes and lower-funded sports that don’t have that luxury of having a full scholarship,” Chambers said. “Allowing jerseys to be sold or having promotional events would allow athletes who don’t have the full scholarship to have some more money coming their way.”

Although student-athletes like Chambers have high hopes for how these rules might benefit athletes, they cannot be sure yet how much will change, as the NCAA has only just begun to define new NIL rules. By 2021, though, all three divisions should have set their rules in place, per the request of the NCAA governing board.

For Southern’s assistant volleyball coach Marshay Greenlee, she said these changes cannot come soon enough.

“Right now, the NCAA is profiting from these student-athletes,” said Greenlee, “and it gives them the opportunity to be awarded some of that.”

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