The lines of amateurism and professionalism are now much harder to distinguish in intercollegiate sports as a result of landmark legislation that forced the hand of the NCAA to adopt an interim policy allowing athletes to financially benefit from their name, image, and likeness, or NIL.
“This is an important day for college athletes,” said NCAA President Mark Emmert on July 1. “With the variety of state laws adopted across the country, we will continue to work with Congress to develop a solution that will provide clarity on a national level.”
What happens now is anyone’s guess, as the onus falls on university athletic departments to craft their own rules and regulations for their student athletes in states where NIL legislation does not exist or has yet to go into effect.
And what does this mean for UCSB? California was the first state to pass NIL legislation back in September of 2019, but it doesn’t go into effect until January 1, 2023. Many states have subsequently passed legislation that began on July 1, 2021. Therefore, UCSB will have to parse out the specific details for how its athletes will be able to accept money from businesses for endorsing products or being featured in advertisements.
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“I am really happy for our players that they are able to profit off of their name, image, and likeness,” said UCSB men’s basketball head coach Joe Pasternack. “It’s really new, and we’re kind of in the learning phase right now. Our athletic department is doing a good job of researching and educating all of us coaches and players at the same time.”
The Gauchos came first in the Big West Conference last season and captured the automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament by winning the Big West Tournament. A painfully close 63-62 loss to Creighton in the opening round has only increased the buzz and excitement surrounding the program going into the 2021-2022 campaign.
As Pasternack noted, in Santa Barbara, “there’s no NBA team, there’s no NFL team, there’s no Major League Soccer or Major League Baseball,” so UCSB athletes can “really take advantage” of the new NIL rules. “We have such a special community, and it revolves around UCSB,” he said.
Education for athletes about the opportunities and potential pitfalls will be key. NIL regulations are complicated for many reasons, and in most casesm a college degree is worth far more in the long run than the typical athlete will likely be able to make through endorsement deals.
“The most important thing is to maintain eligibility,” said UCSB women’s basketball head coach Bonnie Henrickson. “Making sure you are making good decisions on contracts and their tax implications, not only for you but also your family. There are a lot of layers and ripple effects, so we have a responsibility to make sure that our athletes are in a position to make informed choices.”
One area of concern for universities that are not in power-five conferences, such as UCSB, is the possibility that rich campuses will simply get richer. The worry is that the biggest school names in college athletics could attract even more high-level prospects because they would be able to promise major money opportunities.
Whether or not mid-major sports programs like UCSB’s are able to carve out their own niche is yet to be seen, but now that Pandora’s box is open, there’s no turning back.