U.S. Markets close in 3 hrs 7 mins

In a step toward common sense, Condoleezza Rice clarifies her stance on amateurism

If Condoleezza Rice has always been a staunch proponent of college athletes gaining the right to profit off the use of their name, image and likeness, she hid that well two weeks ago when she relayed the Commission on College Basketball’s recommendations to fix the sport.

As a result, her latest comments come across as a significant shift in tone in the wake of widespread criticism from the news media.

In a USA Today article published on Wednesday, Rice said she believes “students ought to be able to benefit from name, image and likeness.” What’s more, she bristled at the notion that she and the rest of the commission failed to take a stance on this issue by opting not to make a recommendation until the results of current litigation become clear.

“I think some of the commentary suggested that we didn’t really speak on this issue,” Rice told USA Today. “I think we did speak on this issue, it’s just that we understand there’s a legal framework that has to be developed first.

“I think people may have looked at the fact that we said there’s a legal framework to be developed and said, ‘Oh, well, maybe they’re punting on this.’ Nobody was intending to punt on it.”

What Rice said Wednesday about the issue was stronger and clearer than anything she said two weeks ago. Athletes gaining the right to cash in on the marketing of their names, images or likenesses was not a point of emphasis in the commission’s report, nor in Rice’s conversations with Yahoo Sports and other outlets afterward.

In its 60-page report, the Commission devoted a whopping two paragraphs to the subject of whether college athletes should be able to profit from endorsements the way that Olympians do. In the end, the Commission largely danced around the issue, leaning on the legal system as a crutch and falling well shy of a full-throated endorsement.

“When the legal parameters relevant to this issue are clearer, the Commission also believes that the NCAA should reconsider its treatment of student-athletes NIL,” the Commission’s report said. “In the current legal setting, however, the Commission has decided to focus its recommendations on supporting the college model. It seeks to address the charge of player exploitation in other ways.”

In an interview with Yahoo Sports’ Pat Forde the day the Commission released its report, Rice did not express interest in exploring new avenues for athletes to receive a bigger cut of the revenue college athletics generates. She shot down the idea of athletes receiving salaries, made no mention of NIL rights and wholeheartedly expressed support for the current collegiate model of amateurism.

“We believe the collegiate model is worth defending,” Rice said. “What’s the value proposition between the student-athlete and the university? When the basketball player goes out and generates, through team play, extraordinary revenues, which then produce high salaries for coaches — I understand all that. But the value proposition from our point of view is that you are engaging in an activity that is going to give you a lifetime value proposition in the form of a college degree.

“If you have a real college degree — and I emphasize real — your earning power is a million dollars greater than a non-college graduate. Students you are going to school with who are not athletes are taking down loans, working 20 hours a week, their parents are scrounging for money to get the same thing you’re getting for free for playing a sport you love. You’re also getting the best training, the best coaching and the best health care, nutrition, academic support. That’s a good value proposition.”

If Rice is now more willing to be vocal in support of athletes gaining the right to profit off the use of their name, image and likeness, that is a significant victory for common sense. That change has a far better chance of stemming the river of dirty money flowing through college basketball than any of the Commission’s other recommendations do.

The root of the widespread bribery and corruption that the FBI has uncovered is the inequity at the heart of the sport. Elite college players are valuable commodities to coaches, universities, agents and shoe-apparel giants, yet the NCAA’s deeply flawed amateurism model prohibits them from receiving money beyond a scholarship.

Opening up NIL rights for athletes would reduce that divide and bring aspects of the underground economy of college athletics aboveboard. Depending on how much the NCAA relaxes its rules, companies could potentially be able to hire college athletes as endorsers?

What’s wrong with Nike investing $250,000 in Marvin Bagley to have him wear its gear at Duke and to entice him to sign with them when he turns pro? Or DeAndre Ayton filming a commercial for a restaurant in Tucson? Or Devonte Graham appearing on a billboard in Lawrence?

Such a system would certainly favor the most high-profile programs with the most fan support and the most corporate sponsors, but in reality that’s not all that different from what’s in place now. Duke, Arizona and Kansas would still get a lot of elite recruits just like they already do.

If Rice was always in favor of such a system or even taking a modest step toward it, she should have done more to make the clear two weeks ago.

Maybe she felt she had to tone down her viewpoint while speaking at NCAA headquarters. Maybe she simply didn’t do enough to make her stance known. Maybe the widespread criticism the Commission has received prompted a change of heart.

Whatever the explanation, Rice’s comments Wednesday were a notable shift in tone.  She clarified her position, and as a result, college athletics may take a big step forward.

– – – – – – –

Jeff Eisenberg is a college basketball writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!