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In Historic First, Student-Athletes Can Now Profit Off of Name, Image, and Likeness

Student-athletes can now use their names to promote sports brands, run their own merchandising companies, and sponsor large sports events, according to J. Michael Keyes, an intellectual property attorney at the law firm Dorsey & Whitney.
Student-athletes can now use their names to promote sports brands, run their own merchandising companies, and sponsor large sports events, according to J. Michael Keyes, an intellectual property attorney at the law firm Dorsey & Whitney. By Owen A. Berger
By Davit Antonyan, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard student-athletes may receive compensation for the use of their name, image, and likeness for the first time, the Ivy League announced Thursday, changing its rules to align with a new interim policy from the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

The decision comes after a recent Supreme Court ruling delivered a small — but significant — victory to student-athletes, allowing them to receive incremental increases to their education-related compensation packages. Following the ruling, the NCAA reaffirmed its commitment to working with Congress toward a decision regarding the right for students to profit off of NIL; the interim policy will stay in place until new federal law is passed or NCAA adopts a new policy.

“With the variety of state laws adopted across the country, we will continue to work with Congress to develop a solution that will provide clarity on a national level,” NCAA President Mark A. Emmert said in a statement. “The current environment — both legal and legislative — prevents us from providing a more permanent solution and the level of detail student-athletes deserve.”

Rather than replace any state or local bills, the NCAA regulation is meant to accompany them, meaning that athletes in states with existing NIL laws will need to abide by them in addition to the NCAA guidance. For states that have no such laws in place, however, the NCAA guidelines provide an alternative.

Still, the announcement by the NCAA comes with some key caveats. The organization still outright prohibits any “pay for play” arrangements, in which athletes can make money in line with their performance on the field.

In an email to student-athletes Thursday, Harvard Athletics Director Erin McDermott wrote that additional rules mandate that Harvard employees cannot arrange these commercial activities, universities cannot use any commercial arrangements to recruit or maintain enrollment, and all agreements must be reported to the compliance staff.

The University is waiting for further action from Congress and the Massachusetts Legislature before enacting any new regulations, McDermott added. For the interim, it will defer to NCAA guidance.

J. Michael Keyes, an intellectual property attorney at the law firm Dorsey & Whitney, said in a statement that the change in NCAA rules presents a “massive” opportunity for student-athletes, as they can now use their names to promote sports brands, run their own merchandising companies, and sponsor large sports events.

“It is impossible to overstate the importance of this development,” he said. “By some estimates, the sports merchandising market over the last few years hovered around $15 billion. It’s about to get a lot bigger very soon.”

McDermott closed her email by noting that student-athletes should proceed cautiously amid the fast-moving policy changes.

“Please be cautious and tread lightly before receiving the Harvard policy,” she wrote. “Be sure to run all potential opportunities by Compliance so they can help guide you. We will follow-up with you later this summer with more specific information and guidelines.”

—Staff writer Davit Antonyan can be reached at davit.antonyan@thecrimson.com.

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