Rick George, Phil DiStefano react to NCAA vote to allow name, image, likeness benfits

Tuesday announcement approves measure without specific proposals

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado athletic director Rick George served on the 18-member name, image and likeness working group dubbed the “NCAA Working Group on State and Federal Legislation” that was formed in May.

Change, at long last, is on the way in the NCAA regarding the ability of student-athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness.

Yet what that change ultimately might look like remains a mystery.

On Tuesday, the NCAA Board of Governors unanimously approved a measure to allow student-athletes the opportunity to reap income off name, image and likeness opportunities. The NCAA issued a release long on touting its newfound flexibility — “We must embrace change to provide the best possible experience for college athletes,” said board chair Michael Drake, the president at Ohio State — but short on actual proposals on how student-athletes might be allowed to profit in the future.

The decision arrived with a University of Colorado influence, as chancellor Phil DiStefano serves on the Board of Governors while athletic director Rick George has served on the 18-member name, image and likeness working group dubbed the “NCAA Working Group on State and Federal Legislation” that was formed in May.

“I think there’s a lot to determine on the ‘what.’ As a working group, we’ll take feedback from conference and a variety of people now that the NCAA made a big step in moving forward,” George said. “They voted on our initial recommendations. Now we’ll really work on the principles and framework around that. And that will take some time. But it will allow us to get more feedback from all three divisions and conferences out there and take what we think will be the best position for our student-athletes.

“I think we’re going to continue to focus on the framework and the principles around the name, image and likeness. It’s got to be consistent with the collegiate model. We’re going to ensure that it does. And that’s part of our charge that we got from the Board of Governors.”

And therein is the challenge moving forward for the working group, as well the source of early criticism of Tuesday’s announcement. The press release offered by the NCAA Tuesday also touted whatever changes that occur will be “consistent with the collegiate model.”

The collegiate model, of course, has always forbidden any and all financial benefit regarding name, image and likeness. Yet given California already has passed legislation allowing student-athletes to profit from such opportunities beginning in 2023, and that Colorado is part of a long list of states with legislators proposing similar laws, DiStefano believes a balance can be struck between allowing for new opportunities while maintaining a collegiate, non-professional model.

Maybe Buffs fans eventually will see the likes of Laviska Shenault and McKinley Wright on local ads. But not in the immediate future.

“We applauded the work that Rick and the committee did that he is on. But as Rick said, there is still details that need to be ironed out by the working group,” DiStefano said. “What we were saying today is, we support changing NCAA rules to allow for name, image and likeness benefits. But there’s a lot of work ahead to define what’s permitted and what’s not permitted. We want to stay close to what we’ve been doing for the last 100 years under this amateur model and make sure we’re treating our student-athletes the way we treat our non-student-athletes on campus.”

George said the working group will continue its various fact-finding missions and discussions through the winter in order to present a final report, complete with what will be allowable and won’t, in April. In Tuesday’s announcement, the Board of Governors also said it wanted changes to be implemented by January 2021. Once details are finalized by April, that will leave just eight months to reshape an amateurism model that has been in place for over a century.

“I believe there’s a number of opportunities between now and that time,” George said. “We have our convention in January that will give us some opportunities to further flush this out and meet with our constituents in different conferences. And then we also have NCAA meetings in April for our Division I council. I do believe we can meet that timeline. We’ve put in a lot of time and effort and our two chairs, Val Ackerman and Gene Smith, have really kept us engaged. We’ve met a lot, via phone and in person, to ensure that one, we were able to meet this first timeline, and two, as we move forward, to have the right amount of time to do this right.”