Leaders of the N.C.A.A., the most influential governing body in college sports, insisted for months that they were eager to move forward with new guidelines to allow players greater economic opportunities. And while it is true that many leading figures in athletics have urged the 115-year-old association to loosen its longstanding restrictions, the college sports industry is largely acting now because it had very little choice.
Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio and Texas all have laws or executive orders coming into force on Thursday that will allow college athletes to earn money off their names, images and likenesses. More than a dozen other states have passed similar measures with later effective dates. But Congress, in a setback to the N.C.A.A., has not reached an agreement to override the state statutes and write a standard into federal law.
Although many administrators still hope that the federal government will eventually act, the array of state laws — often maligned by athletics officials as a “patchwork” — threatened to create an immediate imbalance in college sports. Schools in states with legal guarantees that students could potentially cash in, the reasoning went, would be better positioned to recruit prospective players, tilting the greatest future talents toward a handful of schools. The N.C.A.A.’s decision to intervene, executives hope, will stave off the worst potential disparities for at least a short time.
Still, the path to Monday’s recommendation was speckled with infighting, caution, threats and last-minute maneuvering. No recent development was more consequential than the Supreme Court ruling last week that undercut the N.C.A.A.’s approach to antitrust law and pushed the industry toward conceding more rights to athletes than top executives once anticipated.
The case, N.C.A.A. v. Alston, was narrowly focused on education-related benefits like academic awards and paid internships, but the court’s unanimous ruling stripped away some of the legal precedent that the association and its members relied upon for protection for decades. The decision unnerved college sports officials, many of them already drained by seemingly endless court battles, and deepened concerns that a set of strict N.C.A.A. rules around name, image and likeness would invite more legal challenges and, perhaps, more resounding defeats.