It’s been nearly 16 years since Jeremy Bloom lost his battle with the NCAA, but it wasn’t much of a surprise that he was a popular guy on Wednesday.
“My phone has been ringing off the hook today,” the former Colorado Buffaloes receiver said with a laugh.
This week, the NCAA Board of Governors announced it will allow college athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness (NIL). Details of the new legislation are still being ironed out and it is pending approval by the divisions by January of 2021, but it was a major step for the NCAA, which has long fought against NIL compensation in an effort to protect its model of amateurism.
One of the most high-profile battles on this issue took place between the NCAA and Bloom nearly two decades ago.
“This was the crux of my whole battle,” Bloom, 38, said. “This is the thing that they have been fighting for the last 50 years. … So it is a monumental day.”
Bloom, who starred at Loveland High School, was an electric talent for the Buffs. The first time he touched the football, in the 2002 season opener against Colorado State, he went 75 yards for a touchdown on a punt return. His first career catch was a 94-yard touchdown against Kansas State – the longest passing play in CU history until last season. He had three return touchdowns in his career and caught 22 passes for 356 yards as a sophomore in 2003.
He was also a world-class moguls skier and competed at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy.
To realize his Olympic dreams, however, Bloom needed funding. He agreed to endorsement deals for ski equipment, as well as for modeling Tommy Hilfiger clothing.
“Those endorsers are the ones that paid for the expenses to travel around the world to 14, 15 World Cups in 10 different countries,” Bloom said. “That’s expensive and a college kid certainly doesn’t have it. I played (football) my freshman and sophomore year, but then come my junior year, I just didn’t have any money to fund (skiing), so I was between a rock and a hard place.”
The NCAA wouldn’t allow Bloom to earn endorsement money and still play football. The two-year battle ended when Bloom lost his final appeal in August of 2004, less than two weeks before CU’s season opener. His college football career was cut in half.
Now, the next Jeremy Bloom will now have a chance to do both.
“If this would have happened when I was in school, I could have played my junior and senior year and I could have continued to train for the Olympics,” he said. “It wasn’t (an option), obviously, but I’m happy to contribute, even if it’s a small contribution, to where we are today.”
Non-athlete college students have long had the ability to profit off their NIL. The argument from Bloom and others who have fought the battle is that athletes should be treated the same way.
Finally, the NCAA agrees.
“It somewhat felt inevitable,” Bloom said. “I would describe it as a good day, not a great day. A good day because, for the first time, the NCAA is saying that they believe that they were wrong on name, image and likeness. The reason I wouldn’t describe it as a great day is because we still don’t know what the rules and regulations (will be).”
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, the co-chair of the NCAA’s working group that developed the NIL plan, spoke of “guardrails” to be worked out. (CU athletic director Rick George is a part of the 18-member working group, as well).
Basically, the NCAA is ready to allow student-athletes to profit from NIL, but they want to try to regulate fair market value. That’s where Bloom hesitates in giving the NCAA – which was forced into this decision by several states, including Colorado, passing or proposing NIL legislation – too much credit.
“If they try to cap (the student-athletes’) earnings ability, they’re still going to be in conflict of the state senators from Colorado and California and all over,” Bloom said. “So, I don’t think that’s going to work. I wouldn’t be surprised if they still tried to do it.
“I think this is another inevitable step (by the NCAA) to disarm public pressure and government pressure and say, ‘OK, we hear you, we’re going to change; just trust us, we’ll make the right decisions from here.’ I don’t think that’s going to work. I really don’t.
“We need to pay close attention over the next months or years as that’s defined, because that’s really going to make a big difference.”
Several NCAA members fear that a free market on NIL will create recruiting imbalance, particularly in football and men’s basketball. The rich teams could get richer.
“That is true,” Bloom said, “but I’ve never subscribed to the belief or notion that there is a level recruiting playing ground across college athletics. It just doesn’t exist today and, by the way, it didn’t exist 20 years ago.
“The richest schools have the best locker rooms; they have the best facilities; they have the best stadiums; they have the best coaches; they have the most players in the NFL, if we’re talking football. Those schools have always had a big, major, major recruiting advantage.”
Bloom said those advantages aren’t limited to money, either.
“Think about academics,” he said. “The education that you would get at Stanford to set you up for the rest of your life is superior to a lot of other institutions. Stanford has a recruiting advantage academically.”
Bloom hopes the NCAA will allow student-athletes to maximize their earning potential.
“It does give me hope and confidence that Rick George is on this committee because he’s a progressive thinker,” Bloom said. “I’ve talked to him a number of times on the topic and I believe that he’s going to try and do the right thing.”
For Bloom’s collegiate career, the “right thing” comes about 16 years too late, but he’s not bitter.
“As I look back at my athletic career, I do so with a big smile and a lot of gratitude to what I was able to accomplish,” he said.
Bloom, by the way, was talented enough in football that two months after the 2006 Olympics, he was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the fifth round of the NFL draft – despite two years away from the game. He had brief stints with the Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Rather than focus on himself, Bloom feels bad for the student-athletes who could have really benefited from earning money in college: those who came from low-income families or those who were big stars in college but didn’t make it professionally.
“That’s where the bitterness comes from,” he said. “It certainly doesn’t come from my situation.”
Bloom’s situation put him at the forefront of this battle 16 years ago, however, and he’s happy that others in the future won’t have to fight the same fight.
“It’s surreal to me, because this would have transformed my whole life,” he said. “To see the NCAA … come out and say, ‘We now believe student-athletes should be compensated’ is surreal, because that’s the very thing they’ve been fighting the last 50 years. So it’s a good day. Yeah, it’s a step in the right direction.”