When will NCAA athletes get paid?

Athletes will be able to benefit from their names, images and likenesses

NCAA student-athletes will be able to profit from their names, images and likenesses as soon as the 2021-2022 academic year following years of debate over whether they should be paid or whether they should continue to be treated as amateurs.

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The details of the new rules are still being debated, but the NCAA’s Board of Governors announced in April that it “supported rule changes to allow student-athletes to receive compensation for third-party endorsements both related to and separate from athletics.”

Under the broad proposal, college athletes will be able to make money from endorsements as well as other ventures like sports camps and businesses. Colleges won’t be able to pay students, and athletes would be forbidden from using school logos or trademarks in their endorsement deals.

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All three divisions of the NCAA are now ironing out the details of the new name, image and likeness rules and will hold a final vote next January to take effect at the beginning of the 2021-2022 academic year.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom set this all in motion when he signed a bill in September 2019 that gives college athletes in his state the opportunity to benefit from their names, images and likenesses. He heralded it as “the beginning of a national movement – one that transcends geographic and partisan lines.”

“Colleges reap billions from these student-athletes’ sacrifices and success but, in the same breath, block them from earning a single dollar,” Newsom said upon signing the bill. “That’s a bankrupt model – one that puts institutions ahead of the students they are supposed to serve. It needs to be disrupted.”

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The NCAA fought the California bill hard before Newsom signed it, arguing that California would upend the current system.

"Right now, nearly half a million student-athletes in all 50 states compete under the same rules,” the NCAA Board of Governors wrote to Newsom in September 2019. “This bill would remove that essential element of fairness and equal treatment that forms the bedrock of college sports.”

But many athletes, activists and lawmakers have argued for years that the NCAA is an exploitative system that generates hundreds of millions in revenue while refusing to compensate players. Michael Sokolove, author of “The Temptation of Rick Pitino,” made the case to NPR in 2018 that players get the raw end of the deal.

“If you look at a program like Louisville, which is a program that I focused on, they generate about $45 million a year in revenue,” Sokolove said. “They give out 13 scholarships. That adds up to about $400,000 a year. The rest of it gets spread out to the coach, who makes $8 million a year, to the assistant coaches, who make as much as a half-million dollars a year.”

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There is a lot that must happen before athletes will be able to financially benefit, though. The NCAA is pushing Congress to enact a national law to make the rules uniform across all 50 states. It is trying to avoid a situation where each state passes a different law, which could create a fractured system.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., introduced the Fairness in College Athletics Act last month, which would allow college athletes to profit from their names, images and likenesses.

“As states continue to pass laws determining how college athletes can be compensated for their name, image, and likeness, it is clear that a patchwork of 50 state laws would be devastating to college sports. The Fairness in Collegiate Athletics Act is an effort to ensure the NCAA implements policies for NIL and even the playing field," Rubio said in a statement.

Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., has introduced similar legislation in the House.

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