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Profiting from your likeness

1 month ago
David Surdam
NCAA Building

In the wake of his scintillating performance in the NCAA football championship game between Louisiana State University and Clemson, fans and the media lionized quarterback Joe Burrow. What differentiated Burrow and Iowa’s own Maddie Poppe, another talented young adult? There were no constraints upon Ms. Poppe’s ability to earn money from her talents and likeness. Until he finished his collegiate career, Burrow could not receive payments for use of his likenesses. LSU was free to make as much money as possible from his wondrous skills, but he was not.

The California legislature recently enacted a bill allowing NCAA athletes to profit from use of their likeness. For years, the NCAA had prohibited such payments, ostensibly to preserve amateurism. Economists might label the prohibition as exploitation. Since California universities employ a large proportion of college athletes, the state’s new law forces NCAA authorities to scramble. Athletic directors and coaches of schools outside of California are wringing their hands over their perceived increased competitive disadvantages in recruiting top players relative to, say, the University of Southern California’s and UCLA’s sports teams.

Naturally, the NCAA’s scramble runs the risk of legislating in haste and repenting at leisure. The California legislation should have been superfluous; the NCAA should never have denied athletes opportunities to profit from their talents and personalities. Why should Burrow have been denied opportunities that Ms. Poppe possessed? Certainly college coaches make handsome amounts from shoe endorsements; in fact, coaches often dictate which brand of shoes their players wear--so much for choice. Why shouldn’t players have such opportunities?

The NCAA does have some legitimate concerns about athletes gaining endorsement opportunities. There is the never-ending concern about “competitive balance” in amateur, as well as professional team sports. Many NCAA rules presumably exist to promote competitive balances (although tell that to perennial losing teams). Athletes playing for UCLA and USC presumably will have greater opportunities for endorsements than athletes performing for Iowa or Iowa State.

A more serious concern, though, is that players may end up endorsing dubious products or consorting with equally dubious characters. A nineteen-year-old’s ability to discern between good or nefarious opportunities is questionable. Even professional sports teams make errors, as witness the Houston sports venue formerly known as Enron Field. Universities have also been embarrassed by accepting donations from alumni or other donors, who subsequently end up in prison for various crimes. Given time, I suppose the NCAA and university representatives might create a set of workable guidelines to assist athletes in making good decisions.

Another potential problem is how star athletes, who are likely to reap tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in endorsement income, handle their money. Older, professional athletes, even with league- and team-sponsored personal finance seminars and counselors, often find themselves bankrupt a short time after retirement. Will nineteen- or twenty-year-old players exhibit better discretion? There will inevitably be some ugly scandals, as callow athletes squander their earnings.

Payments for endorsement may also deepen differences between male and female collegiate athletes, as the greater popularity of men’s sports results in more lucrative endorsements for football and men’s basketball players. Whether there will be differences between white and non-white players remains to be seen. Teams may be riven with dissent, if a star player reaps far more than teammates.

Finally, in a world rife with sports betting, the NCAA is justly worried about players accepting endorsements from covert gambling interests. Although the NCAA and the professional leagues have suppressed most opportunities for gamblers to corrupt players, freely-floating money will make the NCAA’s job more difficult.

These are legitimate concerns, although not sufficient enough to justify denying players their civil liberties in being able to accept payments. The danger is that California’s legislation may cause the NCAA and institutions of higher education to panic and impose ill-considered legislation in response. The NCAA probably would have been better off taking its head out of the sand and confronting payments decades ago.


Headshot of David Surdam

David Surdam

David Surdam received his Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Chicago. His dissertation, "Northern Naval Superiority and the Economics of the American Civil War," was supervised by Nobel-Prize Winner, Robert Fogel. Professor Surdam has taught at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, Loyola University of Chicago, and the University of Oregon.

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Submitted by Maggie Mathiasen on
This topic has been debated for a long time. Many would argue that in student athletes getting scholarships, they are getting paid because they have their school paid for. However, I think that the time a student athlete puts into practice, lifting, and traveling is similar to those of a full time job. Even though we think paying them for their likeness would be an easy agreement, there are various situations and ideas to consider. One issue mentioned above is the ability of athletes to be able to handle that much money coming their way based off of endorsements or fame. I think that this is something to be considered. I think managing money at any age can be hard. These athletes would be getting large amounts of money based off of their popularity and likeness from fans. I think this could be overwhelming and would pull their motivation away from their team, and towards their personal image. The more the fans like them, the more money they get. However, I believe that one of their sole motivations should be the success of the whole team and not just their own success. Additionally, there is the possibility that they could endorse things that are not appropriate and promote this to the world. The issue I have with this is that many people idolize athletes, especially more popular ones. We would not want our highest respected athletes to be endorsing things that are not okay.

Submitted by Gabbi Hoversten on
For many, many years this has been a big topic of discussion. After reading this post, I have mixed feelings about the topic. If student athletes were too be paid, then there a lot of questions and problems that could arise from that. For instance, as the article states, some young adults around that age don't make the best decisions with their money and spend it unwisely. You also run into the risk that some of these college athletes will sign deals and agreements with products or companies that the university doesn't want to be associated with. It's hard to control what the athletes will do with their money or how they get their money in the first place. On the other side of things, being a college athlete is a tough job. The early mornings, the late nights, and the busy weekends can be stressful for some athletes and the hard work they put in should be rewarded in some way. A lot of people argue that scholarships can be a form of reward for their hard work because in the end, they don't have to pay a single dime for school. Overall, like it was stated in the article, the NCAA should have probably dealt with this matter a long time ago to set some type of guidelines for payments to athletes, but for now, it's going to take time and lots of thought to come up with an ethical decision for these athletes.

Submitted by Elliott on
This has been a heated debate since before I even developed an interest in sports. Overall, I still have mixed feelings about this subject. On one hand I believe that players should have the ability to profit on their likeness and popularity but that it should come with restrictions. If a player chooses to profit on their likeness and popularity then they should not receive scholarships and housing stipends. My tuition and tax dollars shouldn't provide athletes with free tuition and stipends that are able to profit off of their own popularity.

Submitted by Ciara Buchheit on
The NCAA is hindered with many topics like paying their athletes. The topic is controversial and from my viewpoint I can see benefits to both sides on paying athletes vs. not paying. The benefit of paying athletes through endorsements allow companies to utilize popular athletes to sponsor and promote their brand. As a marketing major this would increase the pool of star athletes to endorse. Although this could be huge, I do believe their are more cons than pros. Athletes getting endorsed more than likely are already receiving money from their university through scholarships. If endorsements are added on top of that these athletes may be getting more money than what they can handle for a 18-22 year old. As stated in this article are they really capable at this age to make decisions involving tens of thousands of dollars which more than likely leads them to a path of bankruptcy?

Submitted by Paige Sieren on
This has been a topic of discussion for a long time now and I always find it very interesting on what people think about. Even as a student-athlete myself, it's hard to pick a side on this debate. Sure it sounds great to be paid for how popular you are and your likeness, but many different problems can arise from this as well. As stated above, often times professional athletes who are older have a hard time handling their money and fame so I can't imagine it being any smoother for collegiate athletes. Plus, a UNI athlete would be paid significantly less than an athlete at a bigger school playing in a more popular conference. If all athletes were paid for their likeness, I believe it would keep more of them in college for four years instead of going professional after a year or two just for the money. Being an athlete is often a job in itself for all the time, effort, and energy spent on workouts, weights, games, practices, traveling, etc. It's hard to pick a side on this issue and I believe it will continue to cause the NCAA problems in the future.

Submitted by Luke McDonnell on
This topic has been discussed for a long time and can be debated from both view points. As a college athlete myself, I can see both arguments somewhat clearly. On one hand if you give athletes the opportunity to make money off their name, they could do many things with this money that would not be in their best interests. If you give a 18-19 year old $10,000 you never know what they are going to do with it. One possible suggestion that the NCAA could do is put the money into a retirement fund or something that they could not touch till they reach a certain age so that they do not go and blow all the money before they graduate. Another downfall is that it would be very hard to regulate this, schools are already breaking rules and giving players money under the table as numerous ex-NCAA athletes have came out and said this in the past. If you allow players to make money on their image, it would be very hard to regulate and control the amount of money they are receiving. Another way to view this is that student athletes are putting hundreds of hours into their sport each year and do not have the opportunity to get a job and make extra money on the side. You could counter this by saying that they receive a full scholarship and do not have any loans, but if you come from a family without a lot of money, it could be tough to maintain a healthy lifestyle in college. Many big schools and the NCAA are making millions a year off of athletics and athletes do not see a penny of it, which in many ways is extremely unfair. I think that it is moving towards student athletes getting paid and in the near future it is going to happen. I believe the best way to do it, is to put it into an account towards retirement or something that they cannot touch and will set them up later in life rather than give a young immature person all that money.

Submitted by Alissa Wade on
While it is understandable why there are such concerns with young athletes controlling their image, do we not expect youth to be able to manage student loans and other massive debt? If students are given the responsibility of tending to their financial needs in other capacities, why would managing one's likeness be any different? As mentioned young professionals in other capacities do so for themselves. If these athletes are wise they will hopefully seek some type of counsel to avoid bamboozlement. However, if they do not, then that is the decision they make for themselves and will ultimately have to deal with themselves. This law change gives these young athletes more autonomy in using their likeness and I believe their autonomous decisions should not impact their institutions' image.

Submitted by Melody Morones on
This topic to me was interesting because I enjoy sports and love watching them as well. This topic has also been a big discussion over the years. I feel as if student athletes are, in a way, getting paid by receiving a scholarship to whatever school they get an offer from. Many college students who aren't good enough athletes don't get an offer and have to pull our a student loan or rely on being great at academics for a scholarship. Being a student, I find it hard to manage the money I make and find myself buying things I don't need but do it because I want to. To me, this is just full of different opinions. I understand the long nights and days a student athlete has to deal with but again, they knew what they signed up for. I believe that if they work hard and can continue onto the next step and play at a professional level, then all that money can start flowing in. As of right now, I do not think it is the best idea for college student athletes to get paid. But again, I could change my mind the next day. It will take time though for this to either change or remain the same. Do I think it could change? Yes, I know that it has been in talks but, we will see.

Submitted by Moriah Ross on
As a student-athlete, I have often thought about this topic. I am grateful for the partial scholarship and wonderful parents I have that help me pay for my education. Swimming demands a large amount of time for training and competing and I see it as a job, a way to pay for college. I am nowhere near being asked to endorse any products or receive outside payments for swimming, but I can imagine how frustrating it would be to have to turn that down because the NCAA prohibits it, even when they are making tons a money off of my hard work. But the concerns they have are legitimate. There would have to be more strict guidelines for newly sponsored athletes in college than for professional athletes. These guidelines would need to teach them and protect them from untrustworthy characters, trying to take advantage of a young athlete.

Submitted by Jordan Rempe on
There are so many factors to consider when determining if an 18-22-year-old popular young athlete should benefit from their liking. I think the decision should of whether college athletes get paid or not, should fall on the school. Like the article mentioned some times schools are embarrassed when big donors or celebrities associated with the school get in their own trouble, it reflects on the image of the school. If the school is willing to pay athletes then they should also provide resources to help their students. For example, maybe each team is given a financial planner or a professor who could help aid the students in handling the money they receive. That way the school can still benefit from the likeness of one of their students (if it so chooses), the student can benefit from their talent, but it is all managed and controlled by the school. At the end of the day, the student represents the school. The school is also a business and in some way or another needs to control the students just like a company controls and manages its employees. Schools already manage which athletes get scholarships and for what amount, so they should also be willing to either accept and manage endorsements for the athletes that play at their school. If a student doesn't want to commit to a school that isn't willing to accept endorsements for their students then the student can make the choice if they want to go there or somewhere else.