On Wednesday, a social media campaign with the hashtag #NotNCAAProperty began with many college basketball players tweeting stories of their own experiences as student-athletes that was restrictive in regard to their name, image and likeness. The fight for NIL rights has been gaining steam this season with the latest development coming from a federal bill launched in February that would “make it illegal for the NCAA or other college sports associations to place any restrictions on the type or size of endorsements deals that college athletes could sign in the future.”
The financial impact of the NCAA Tournament is massive and is why the NCAA has taken unprecedented measures this year after last season’s event was cancelled due to COVID-19, costing them $270 million which paid out by insurance. In this CNBC article written by Jabari Young, “MediaRadar, an advertising data firm, estimates the 2019 NCAA March Madness tournament generated $1.18 billion in television ad spend for CBS and Turner Sports. Keep in mind the networks pay a little more than $800 million for the current rights package.”
The NCAA has delayed addressing the NIL rights issue head on as recently as January when it issued this statement:
With the NCAA Tournament taking place this week, the players are taking the opportunity to put a spotlight on NIL rights. They are currently living in a bubble environment set up by the NCAA with strict policies to prevent any potential COVID-19 issues with the Tournament set to begin on Thursday.
The #NotNCAAProperty movement is led by Rutgers’ Geo Baker, Iowa’s Jordan Bohannon, and Michigan’s Isaiah Livers. On Wednesday night, Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA football player and the executive director of the National College Players Association (NCPA) issued a press release outlining the initiatives of the movement.
College basketball players from over 15 teams competing in this year’s NCAA March Madness Tournament have launched a historic protest against unjust NCAA rules that deny college athletes equal freedoms and basic protections. They are calling for the following:
NCAA rule changes to allow all athletes the freedom to secure representation and receive pay for use of our name, image, and likeness by July 1st.
A meeting with NCAA President Mark Emmert.
Meetings with state & federal lawmakers and President Biden’s administration to pass laws to give college athletes physical, academic, and financial protections.
The Supreme Court to rule in support of plaintiffs/college athletes in Alston v. NCAA and to not give the NCAA any power to deny us equal freedoms.
As part of the protest, the NCPA will arrange panel discussions with college athletes and experts to discuss unjust NCAA rules and ways to ensure college athletes are treated fairly.
The players and the NCPA are using the hashtag #NotNCAAProperty to underscore their concern that the NCAA too often treats college athletes like dollar signs rather than people. College basketball players from multiple teams protesting NCAA rules during the NCAA’s own March Madness Tournament is unprecedented and comes at a time when lawmakers and the US Supreme Court will be making decisions that will affect the freedoms and rights of generations of future athletes.
Iowa basketball player Jordan Bohannon, Rutgers basketball player Geo Baker, and Michigan basketball player Isaiah Livers held a zoom meeting last summer with players throughout the Big Ten Conference and NCPA Executive Director Ramogi Huma to discuss college athletes’ rights and challenges facing them due to the COVID pandemic last summer. The players all kept in touch. Bohannon, Baker, Livers, and a number of other basketball leaders who have since joined the NCPA, held a meeting on Tuesday evening with players from a dozen other Tournament teams and Huma to discuss launching the protest.
Huma stated, “These players are taking a historic stand to protect the rights and freedoms of generations of players to come. They are people #NotNCAAProperty.”
Many Rutgers basketball players took to Twitter on Wednesday to give examples of the issues with their lack of NIL rights:
The NCAA OWNS my name image and likeness. Someone on music scholarship can profit from an album. Someone on academic scholarship can have a tutor service. For ppl who say “an athletic scholarship is enough.” Anything less than equal rights is never enough. I am #NotNCAAProperty— Geo Baker (@Geo_Baker_1) March 17, 2021
HEAR US!! We deserve the rights to OUR names. #NotNCAAProperty— Ron Harper Jr. (@__RHJR) March 17, 2021
I will have made more in my intern position then my entire 4 years of being a NCAA athlete, in 2 semesters.— Myles Johnson (@MylestheMonster) March 17, 2021
All because I don’t have the rights to my own name, image, and likeness
Make it make sense#NotNCAAProperty
I should have the right to my own name image and likeness. It’s not rocket science, and I should know I’ve taken it. #NotNCAAProperty— Myles Johnson (@MylestheMonster) March 17, 2021
As a walk-on, I pay full tuition each year and yet even I can not profit off of my OWN name, image, and likeness. The NCAA’s rules do not allow me to even start my own basketball camp in my own hometown. #NotNCAAProperty— Luke Nathan (@lukenathan33) March 17, 2021
Rutgers men’s basketball head coach Steve Pikiell has been vocal in supporting and encouraging his players that take an active role with civil rights and social change issues. He said on a media call Wednesday that, “We’re a players program. They have platforms now to speak out and that’s great. I remember being a student-athlete myself and we had a lot of opinions we just didn’t have social media to share it. They have a voice and we have great kids. They want change too. There’s a lot in this world that needs to be changed. We appreciate their opinions and brings about some healthy discussions too which is another good thing.”
With the program set to play on the sports biggest stage for the first time in 30 years, the team is taking advantage of the platform to push for major change.
Half the players who are pushing #NotNCAAProperty play for Rutgers, it seems. As if the Scarlet Knights weren't already America's Team this week? Now they're using the stage they fought for to fight the power. https://t.co/a2p9iKC9gt— Brady McCollough (@BradyMcCollough) March 17, 2021
Baker spoke out in January about NIL rights in responding to a social media post by the NCAA. He was criticized for categorizing the issue with “modern day slavery”. He addressed the issue after a win over Northwestern by saying, “I’m extremely grateful for Rutgers. I’m extremely grateful for coach Pikiell, for the Rutgers community, for everybody here. It’s a great opportunity we have here, but that doesn’t mean that the system is perfect. That’s what I was trying to get to the point of. I think the core of what I said is true. My name, image and likeness is owned by someone else. That’s how I view it. I’m disappointed in the words that I used, but I think there is a bigger discussion that needs to be made. The headline was three words that was at the very end of very truthful facts. We are owned by someone else.”
Pikiell said at the time, “We’re working to support our student-athletes in every way possible with some great constructive dialogue, that’s what we like to do. Geo has been a great representative of Rutgers. He’s been a world class kid. He’s been a really good student. He told me he wished he articulated his thoughts in a different manner, maybe on a different platform. That’s a serious discussion and not to respond to other posts. He’ll live and learn. That’s where we are as teachers. We look forward to him moving on from this experience and being a little bit more articulate in how he addresses these different issues.”
The fact that Baker is continuing this mission but in a more organized manner has galvanized many college basketball players and brought a greater spotlight to an issue that affects thousands of student athletes. The NIL rights issue is one that needs to be resolved as players deserve to have rights to their own name. It might not be as simple as it sounds to implement, but it’s the right thing to do.
Ron Harper Jr. spoke to the media on Wednesday about the issue during a scheduled call ahead of Friday’s game against Clemson.
When asked about future compensation for players, Harper Jr. said “I sure hope so. This group of players that play college basketball right now are very active in the fight for our name, image, and likeness to be passed. This is a group of college kids that has sacrificed more than anybody ever has when it comes to playing college basketball. We’ve been isolated from friends, family, girlfriends, etc. for the whole year. Hopefully, we’re at a turning point where the NCAA can look at us and pass the name, image, and likeness laws that we should rightfully receive.”
This Rutgers men’s basketball team made history ending the program’s 30 year NCAA Tournament drought. Now they’re making history by leading the charge for NIL rights for all student-athletes. They changed the culture at Rutgers. Now they’re actively fighting to change the culture of college sports in a time they are making unprecedented sacrifices. No matter what happens on the court on Friday night in the first round game against Clemson, this Rutgers team has cemented its legacy in more ways than one.