Last week, the NCAA announced that their athletes could “benefit from the use of their name, image, and likeness.” For most schools, their revenue-generating sports will be the only sports that feel its affects. For Stanford, however, their non-revenue generating sports will also be affected.
Katie Ledecky left the 2016 Olympics in Rio with four gold medals and as one of the most well-known names in the world of sports. More importantly, she won in dominant fashion, and ahead of college, expectations were through the roof. Ultimately, she reached those expectations, becoming a NCAA champion in five events as a freshman and in three events as a sophomore. However, her career was short-lived; she turned pro after two years at Stanford.
When she turned pro, she couldn’t have profited off her name, one of the biggest in sports, while competing on the Stanford team. In 2017, she ranked 29th in SportsPro’s list of the 50 most marketable athletes. NCAA rules, though, forbid Ledecky to profit off her name, image, and likeness. Certainly, this rule played a factor in Ledecky’s decision to turn pro. After turning pro, she signed a $7 million endorsement deal with TYR.
Stanford is a unique case for the new rule because their non-revenue generating sports house Olympians. In Rio, 39 Stanford affiliated athletes competed, and 16 won medals. In Olympic sports, like gymnastics, swimming, and track, Olympic winners have a short career and a short window to make a profit off their name following their success on the world’s biggest stage. There’s not as much money in women’s swimming, so when an lucrative endorsement deal is on the table, Ledecky will take it. If the NCAA rule had been in affect two years ago, Ledecky could have accepted the $7 million and still compete for Stanford.
Or consider Michelle Wie, who couldn’t compete for Stanford because she was a professional golfer. Every year, she would take a quarter off school to compete professionally. The school and the player could have benefitted from the ability to play collegiate sports and earn money professionally at the same time, allowing her to keep her game sharp while benefitting Stanford’s team too.
Still, the key word in the NCAA new rule is “benefit.” Athletes could benefit by earning cash, receiving gifts, or getting a trust-fund. There’s no telling what the NCAA might decide by 2021. Maybe the NCAA decides to not allow endorsement deals to pay athletes. Maybe the rule makes no difference for an athlete like Ledecky, and she would still turn pro. Ultimately, however, the NCAA needs to treat college sports how fans treat it—like a professional sport.
In most of the country, college football is professional football - or the only sport most fans care about. I drove to Cornell last weekend from Virginia, and even in upstate New York, I saw Penn State flags fly with pride despite the school being located three hours away. In Alabama, there are no professional teams, except for Alabama and Auburn football. Texas has their own channel, the Longhorn Network. In Norman, Oklahoma, the Dallas Cowboys are a three-hour drive away. And would fans in Ohio rather root for the sorry Browns or the prideful Ohio State University?
Even growing up in Los Angeles, I saw USC treated a professional team, filling the void of a NFL team. Players were treated like celebrities, and many fans had no affiliation with the school besides just living in the area.
In the Bay Area, professional sports are abundant. The Warriors have dominated basketball the past five years, the Giants baseball dominated the five years prior, and 49ers look like they could dominate football for the next five years. For the common sports fan in the Bay Area, Stanford is the fourth, or fifth, option to watch. Most of the country is not as blessed with professional sports, and college sports fill the void as the local professional team.
It’s time players in all sports can benefit from their hard work, accomplishments, and stardom with more than just a scholarship.