Cal Athletics: NCAA Takes Major Step Toward Allowing Athletes to Earn Money

The change will create new challenges but should begin to benefit athletes in 2021-22
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For years now, I have argued for a simple solution to the growing call for college athletes to be paid. It's a plan I always knew would never be adopted by the NCAA. But it made sense then, and still does.

I have proposed that the NCAA and universities take all shackles off student-athletes and allow them to be paid by outsiders whatever the market will bear. Let them accept money from the local car dealership or Joe Fan or a even deep-pockets booster or an agent.

No cost to the schools. No Title IX equity concerns. No limits. And no worries about extra-benefit violations.

The only two caveats to my plan:

-- Athletes cannot accept money for anything that breaks the laws of our land. Obviously.

-- Athletes must (and this is critical) continue to be legitimate students and maintain academic eligibility in order to compete.

The NCAA did not take that drastic step on Wednesday but it did move significantly closer to a system where athletes will be allowed to earn money. The NCAA's Board of Governors announced plans to allow athletes to earn compensation for use of their name, image or likeness. In other words, the local hair salon can place a photo of the basketball star in its window and give him or her $500. Or whatever.

Previously, this or anything close to it would have constituted a violation. Heck, a free lunch from a booster would have crossed the line in a system where coaches earn millions and the stars of the show have been prevented from collecting a nickel.

My long-time proposal was a no-holds barred, streamlined version of what the NCAA is heading toward. The argument that the elite (richer) programs would get all the best players doesn't wash because they already do that. Alabama still couldn't sign every great football prospect because of the same scholarship limitations currently in place.

In the new system, there will be what the NCAA is calling "guardrails" that will govern this:

The board is requiring guardrails around any future name, image and likeness activities. These would include no name, image and likeness activities that would be considered pay for play; no school or conference involvement; no use of name, image and likeness for recruiting by schools or boosters; and the regulation of agents and advisors.

There are sure to be complications and all sorts of folks searching for loopholes. Nothing about this will transition easily.

But as SI senior writer Pat Forde explains in his column on the topic, whatever mess inevitably comes of these changes is worthwhile because this is the right thing to do. And it's long overdue.

There are steps still to take before this becomes reality. Each of the NCAA's three levels -- Divisions I, II and III -- will work out their own details, because each has its own set of circumstances. The federal government could get involved as the NCAA struggles to maintain some semblance of nationwide uniformity as changes are implemented.

The NCAA wants each of those divisions to have their plans sorted out by January 2021 so that the new arrangement goes into operation by the start of the 2021-22 school year.

It's going to be fascinating to see how this unfolds. And it's about time.