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Does NCAA decision about athlete earnings mean a ‘new era’ for college sports?

College sports, while currently on hold, represent big business, with billions of dollars at stake. It has long been debated whether student athletes should be compensated, or at least better able to access the money they help earn. On Wednesday, the NCAA opened the door to a significant change regarding the question. Former college and NBA basketball player Len Elmore joins Amna Nawaz to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    College athletics may be suspended right now, but when sports resume a more regular routine, football and basketball remain big business, with billions of dollars at stake.

    There has long been a debate over whether athletes should be compensated in some right, or better able to access money made through these sports.

    The NCAA opened the door to a significant change on that front today.

    Amna Nawaz is here with more.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, the NCAA's Board of Governors will finally allow college athletes to earn money from endorsements and to cash in on business made from their names, image and likeness.

    But schools and athletic conferences won't be a part of it, and there will be no pay-for-play arrangement.

    I'm joined now by Len Elmore, former college and NBA basketball player. He is also a member of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, which supports the educational mission of college sports.

    Len Elmore, welcome the "NewsHour." Thanks for being with us.

    And let's just start with the decision today. What was your reaction to this latest step from the NCAA?

  • Len Elmore:

    Well, I was very pleased to see that the NCAA is kind of ushering in a new era for college sports, I mean, in an era where soon athletes can be treated fairly.

    They will have an opportunity to be able to capitalize on their name, image and likeness, which is a natural right. It's something that can't be abrogated by any administrative body. And, certainly, if they want to give it an opportunity, they should be compensated.

    It's different from pay for play.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, help us understand the details, because even the NCAA said this is uncharted territory.

    If a player, say, wants to do an autograph signing for money or gets a brand deal on Instagram, that's OK. But does this mean Nike can now sponsor a college athlete, or a local business in your college town can pay you to put you on a billboard?

  • Len Elmore:

    Well, I'm not sure that those details have been expressly fleshed out, but, essentially, that's the idea, to be able to capitalize on who you are as a college athlete, which was here to heretofore forbidden.

    However, there are some guardrails to help keep athletes from being exploited, as well as making sure that there's no under-the-table types of payments made.

    For instance, institutions can't be involved in any endorsement deal, nor can they generate an endorsement deal for student athletes. However, again, student athletes can't — in some instances, they can't represent sponsors that are already sponsoring the institution.

    And, you know, that's where we have state laws that have been kind of inconsistent on that front.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, institutions can't get in on the deal. But, for example, say there's, you know, a college athlete who has already influence from an agent, right?

    We know that there's corruption at every level, agents getting involved, even at the high school level, in some cases, certainly at the college level.

    Are you worried that this opens the door for even more exploitation from those influences that are already part of the system?

  • Len Elmore:

    Well, I think allowing agents involved is something that the NCAA is still discussing, the Board of Governors.

    I personally don't believe that it's a good idea, for that very reason. They allow marketing agents to help generate opportunities for student athletes, but then they say, you can't be involved in pursuing professional opportunities.

    Well, good luck with that, because, once agents are involved, they're going after the most lucrative opportunities there are. And that would be in — essentially from a pro opportunity situation. And agents are very, very loath to let go of a client once they have a hold of them.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Len, the NCAA rules were put into place to prioritize education. But we already know, in a lot of cases, especially with the top athletes, a lot of them go one and done, right?

    They use college to propel them into the pros. When you have big-dollar sports making millions off these kids, what's the best argument you have for not just compensating them?

  • Len Elmore:

    Well, again, playing college sports is absolutely a privilege, not a right. And there are many choices out there, if the intention is to make money for playing basketball.

    And the increased interest in international sports, as well as playing in the G League, the NBA's G League, provides more options for young people who go to college simply to become eligible for the draft. And I think that it's a fair trade-off.

    Once you sign on the dotted line to play college sports, you are now saying you're going to play within the regulations that are provided. And if you don't want to do that, now you have an opportunity to make a choice to go someplace else.

    And, honestly, I think it's fair.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    That is Len Elmore of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics joining us tonight.

    Thanks so much for being with us.

  • Len Elmore:

    My pleasure.

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