If you thought last week’s NCAA report on athlete compensation might lead to trading card sets featuring active college players, you’re probably wrong. While the report may have opened up the door for players to be paid for social media posts and perhaps autograph sessions, the NCAA isn’t allowing them to partner with their schools for name, image and licensing ventures. However, group licensing deals that are commonplace in professional sports are still unlikely to be allowed, making it difficult to distribute items like trading cards and jerseys.
While student-athletes would be permitted to identify themselves by sport and school, the use of conference and school logos, trademarks or other involvement would not be allowed.
According to a new story in Sports Illustrated, Ahmad Nassar, the CEO of OneTeam Partners, a company with backing from the NFLPA and MLBPA, had been hoping a college sports group licensing deal might be on the horizon. That could have led to an expansion of Panini America’s current college licensing deal with cards—and likely, autographs—of current NCAA athletes. Panini has the license to make cards of former players in their college uniforms and puts out several collegiate-oriented cards and sets but they all feature former players.
Nassar says he had also been anticipating possible college player group deals with Fanatics and Electronic Arts, which would like to resurrect college football video games that went away six years ago over disputes over the use of player likenesses.
“They stand ready, willing and able to bring these products to fans,” Nassar told SI. “We know fans want it, retailers want it, media wants it, players want it and legislators want it. All the ingredients are there. Only thing missing is the NCAA allowing it.”
NCAA leaders claim the lack of a union means group licensing wouldn’t be workable.
“It was the group’s conclusion that group licenses, which would combine school trademarks with student-athlete NIL in products like video games, replica jerseys and trading card collections are unworkable in college sports,” said Val Ackerman, co-chaiman of the NCAA Board of Governors and commissioner of the Big East Conference. “Largely because of the absence of a collective bargaining agency to manage the terms of group NIL use on behalf of the student-athletes.”
The prevention of a workable relationship between players and schools over licensing could have a strange impact: athletes competing against their own athletic departments for deals.
Michael Leroy, a professor in the Illinois College of Law, told SI he believes the NCAA is worried about players not always representing the school the way it wants to be represented and also that big name players who attract a lot of money might take away from the school’s sponsorship deals and donations.
While schools would likely be OK with a paid autograph signing for a football or basketball player who isn’t that well-known, it’s the top shelf pro prospects who could carve out six figure paydays. That’s why those opposed to the NCAA’s stance believe group licensing makes more sense. For now, though, it appears that isn’t happening.