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ESPN's Jay Bilas Weighs In On Student-Athlete Compensation Via NIL Vote


Not to be outplayed by last week's unanimous decision from the Supreme Court, a decision that now allows college athletes to receive certain academic benefits, the NCAA is making its own move this week. It is considering permitting athletes to earn money off of their own name, image and likeness. Jay Bilas joins us now to talk about all of this. He's a college basketball analyst and commentator for ESPN.


JAY BILAS: Thank you, Ailsa, for having me.

CHANG: Thanks for being with us. OK, so if you can, can you just spell it out for us - this move by the NCAA? What does it mean for these players - these Division I players - to be able to make money off of their own name, image and likeness?

BILAS: Well, everyone in America except for a college athlete already owns their name, image and likeness and their right to publicity. And they can do endorsement deals, sell their name, image and likeness, you know, do commercials, whatever they like, except for a college athlete. So now, college athletes are going to be treated like literally everyone else, and they're not going to be restricted by the NCAA in a cartel fashion.

CHANG: What about race? I mean, race is never that far away from college sports. What role do you think race plays here?

BILAS: Well, race plays a role in everything, but it's certainly in the view of fairness that the overwhelming majority of revenue-producing basketball players and football players are African American. And for African American players to be told that you are not allowed to be compensated beyond your expenses seems very much like a plantation mentality. And that term has been used to describe the NCAA for years now. I think this is principles of law and principles of economics and free markets, first and foremost. But does race enter into this and play a role? You're absolutely right.

CHANG: OK. So if a particular school does allow its athletes to make money off of their name, image or likeness, what would that look like on the field or on the court?

BILAS: It would look no different. You know, the athletes are going to be able to do commercials. It'll feel different for a while because you'll see a college athlete in a commercial and say, well, I didn't used to see that. But, you know, Ailsa, we've been through this before. Once upon a time, the Olympics didn't allow athletes to do commercials, and now they allow it. They had a concept of amateurism that was taken out of the Olympic Charter, I think in the 1970s.

Now, you can have professional athletes in the Olympics. And before that was allowed, there were many who said that's going to be the end of the Olympics as we know it. Nobody's going to watch anymore. Dogs and cats are going to live together. It's doomsday. And everything's just fine. It's not a big deal, and it's going to be the same in college sports. I believe, when we're a year or two into this and we see that it's just normal commerce - it's not that big of a deal - we're not going to worry about this stuff anymore.

CHANG: If college sports more mimics normal commerce - as you put it - if it gets closer to normal commerce, how far might we be from universities offering student-athletes actual contracts? And should the pros - like, the NFL and NBA - should they be considering covering those costs?

BILAS: Well, I mean, we might not be far from colleges and universities doing what's in their interest. If it's in their interest to offer the players compensation or a contract, they can do that with any other student. You know, any other student is allowed to work for the university and still be enrolled. I mean, to me, all the NCAA should be worried about is, one, running championships and, two, every athlete should be enrolled as a full-time student in good standing. Everything else doesn't need to be dealt with on, you know, the highest level as far as governance. Individual conferences can govern themselves on what they want their standards to be, and individual schools can do that.

CHANG: Jay Bilas is a college basketball analyst and commentator for ESPN.

Thank you very much for joining us today.

BILAS: Oh, thank you for having me. It's my pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
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