Question: I’m not sure what to make of the US Supreme Court ruling regarding NCAA athletes. Can they now freely earn money while they are amateurs in college?
A: The NCAA has long prohibited college athletes from accepting outside money. The rationale was to preserve “amateurism” (in other words, collegiate athletes are not professionals and therefore do not need to be paid). Instead, stipends and scholarships would suffice. At the same time, however, colleges have often made a lot of money through varsity sports, just like the NCAA. The United States Supreme Court has now unanimously ruled that student athletes can receive education-related payments. The result is that college athletes will have the opportunity to earn money through their name, image and likeness. It’s not unlimited or unconditional, but since the Supreme Court ruling, the NCAA has approved an interim policy that gives student-athletes the ability to take advantage of sponsorship opportunities. This is known as NIL (which means “name, picture and likeness”). Nineteen state laws will come into effect in the coming years, allowing varsity athletes to take advantage of their names and likenesses. The idea is that the US Congress will act to set a national standard (hopefully much sooner rather than later).
Question: With the Supreme Court ruling against the NCAA, will former USC running back Reggie Bush finally get his Heisman Trophy back?
A: Reggie Bush helped the USC Trojans football team win back-to-back national championships. In 2005, he won the Heisman Trophy. In 2010, after several years of investigation, the Heisman Award was canceled because the NCAA concluded that Bush received ineligible benefits from a marketing agency while he was a student-athlete. His 2005 season record was also canceled and USC forfeited their 2004 national title (in addition, USC had to give up 14 wins from 2004 and 2005). With the recent Supreme Court ruling discussed above and the NCAA’s approval of a policy change that allows the NIL, Bush is calling for the reinstatement of the Heisman Prize and his academic records. The Heisman Trust leaves the decision to the NCAA. Research finds divergent views on what the NCAA will do. One article says he won’t overturn his earlier ruling because the sanctions against Bush are for conduct different from what’s now allowed, and he’s used to sticking to his decisions; another points out that the NCAA has punished college athletes long enough and that Reggie Bush fully deserved (and deserves) his stats back and the Heisman Trophy back. At the moment, I can only say “stay tuned”.
Ron Sokol is a Manhattan Beach lawyer with over 35 years of experience. His column, published on Wednesday, provides a summary of the law and should not be construed as legal advice. Email him your questions and comments at email@example.com.