College athletes are about to get paid. In September, California lawmakers passed a bill that would permit college athletes to get paid for their name, image and likeness, while many other states, including Washington, have passed or are weighing legislation. Perhaps more well-known is the decision last month by the NCAA Board of Governors, which promised to allow college athletes to benefit from their name, image and likeness. While it is unclear what the NCAA rules will be, how college athletes will be paid, or by whom, compensation may begin as soon as next year.
This means that college athletes will benefit from their name, image and likeness as professionals and Olympians now do. And not just with a scholarship or a cost-of-attendance stipend, not just with state-of-the-art facilities or expert coaching. The California bill, for example, removes restrictions by schools, conferences and the NCAA that prohibit compensation for a college athlete’s name, image and likeness. It also allows college athletes to retain an agent. And what do we mean by “name, image, likeness?” Keep a close eye on EA Sports and their NCAA Football video game franchise, but don’t look for athlete’s jerseys in the bookstore just yet.
Although it is still to be decided what the NCAA will allow, our universities have to get ready. Not to divide up and claim our share of the revenue but to do what we are called to do: Educate our college athletes. We must innovate in how we educate our students. We must rethink what the curriculum looks like for athletes who want to be compensated for their name, image and likeness, and to learn those skills as part of their degree, not separate from it.
This policy is for more than a few football and basketball players. Our women’s basketball teams, our rowers and runners, softball and soccer players all deserve the opportunity to get paid when the spotlight of athletic success pans their way. While we need to rethink what it means to pay college athletes, we also need to rethink what it means to educate them.
For decades, college athletes have been asked to be “student athletes” — students first, athletes second, yet full-time, year-round in both. Most succeed, but others do not. Many leave with a degree, but not the education that they would have wanted for themselves. Some know the trade-off going in, others learn it in the swift pace of training, practice, travel and never-ending time demands. Exhausted, they take the classes they know will sustain them.
We must get ready, then, to teach these student athletes the entrepreneurial skills necessary to profit from their name, image and likeness. We cannot ask the athletic department to develop more seminars on top of an already overscheduled routine. The complexity of college-athlete pay is too great, and the time demands in their sports are already too high. From learning tax rules, to setting up an online storefront, or signing a contract to endorse a product, our college athletes will need to learn to navigate business practices once reserved for a few elite athletes. We must rethink what a “student athlete” is and rethink our curriculum for college athletes as student entrepreneurs.
Our college athletes are not the only ones who will benefit from course offerings that blend athletic accomplishments with entrepreneurial interests. From Fitbits to esports and YouTube channels, our college students are already experts in technology, innovation and, frankly, how to benefit from their own name, image and likeness. Many students come to college already streaming and posting, some with a following that would rival many small businesses.
In our colleges and universities, we are well suited to develop educationally purposeful opportunities for athletes to benefit from their name, image and likeness. From courses in the practical skills of running a business to courses where students are pushed to ask about the role of sports within their education, our colleges and universities must prepare to better educate today’s college athletes. College sports are changing. Educating our athletes must change, too.