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NCAA to pay former players $2.8B and share revenue with future players in settlement

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Consider this number - $2.8 billion. That's roughly the amount of money that could be coming to former student athletes. The NCAA and Power Five athletic conferences agreed to pay this through a settlement announced Thursday. This historic change will also drastically reshape the relationship between current and future student athletes in their schools. It's something student athletes have been advocating for. Here's UCLA quarterback Chase Griffin testifying before Congress a few months ago. He's asking for changes to a policy known as NIL. That's name, image and likeness.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHASE GRIFFIN: Like me, most college athletes use their NIL savings for investing, saving and building a solid financial foundation. For most of us, NIL is not Lamborghini money, but it could mean a down payment on our first homes.

SUMMERS: Our next guest, Kendall Spencer, has been a pioneering advocate for student athletes. He was a track-and-field athlete himself at the University of New Mexico years ago, and he is now an attorney. Kendall, welcome.

KENDALL SPENCER: Thanks for having me.

SUMMERS: So, Kendall, I just want to start by asking you for your reaction to this news that broke last night. Just how significant is it?

SPENCER: You know, this is a momentous shift in intercollegiate athletics and in the lives of student athletes. It's not entirely surprising. You know, if you look at the record and actually see how the litigation has been going and just generally how the tides have been changing in college sports, none of this is surprising. But what it does signal is a momentous shift and positive change for student athletes. I could not be more excited. As an advocate for college athletics, as an advocate for student athletes, this presents a great opportunity for student athletes to be taken seriously at the institutional and at the conference levels.

SUMMERS: I'll just note that there's a lot that we're still learning about the settlement - some details that are still not public - but as we mentioned earlier, part of what makes this so historic is that $2.8 billion. But the other part is the creation of a new revenue-sharing model, which could impact hundreds of schools across the country, many student athletes. What is the real impact here? What could this look like in practice?

SPENCER: Well, I think this is honestly probably the hardest aspect of the settlement agreement. And, you know, just to signal - nothing is final or set in stone until the judge actually signs off on the terms here. And I think here, what we're talking about is how do institutions and the NCAA come to the table and decide, OK, how is the revenue going to be distributed? How's it going to be allocated across different sports, across different conferences? And how is it going to be applied to the individual student athletes?

What this does is create an opportunity for more student athletes to be at the table, to be taken seriously and to have a tangible voice in the way that these funds are administered. No longer are student athletes going to be in a position where they just have to kind of take what they're told at face value. I think one of the benefits here is institutions are going to have to really stand by and explain their policies.

But I think the tough part here is, in practice, what's going to happen across the board to some of the non-revenue-generating sports. I think what a lot of people need to kind of take away from this is this is a permissive opportunity, meaning that institutions do not have to opt in. They do not have to pay their student athletes, but they can. And so what this is going to mean for different sports, for different student athletes and different institutions, you know, is going to be an ongoing discussion, and it's going to take some time.

SUMMERS: I mean, there is a question of equity here as we're talking about this new payment structure, the way that the money will be distributed between sports, as you point out. I also think about gender parity here. What's your understanding there?

SPENCER: I think no matter where people fall on the Title IX issue, there is no excuse. I think this is a great opportunity for both the NCAA and its member schools to really continue to open up those doors and to make sure that everyone has a fair and equitable opportunity to receive the same type of support. You know, this should not be a situation where it is just male football and basketball student athletes that are able to set themselves up properly for life after sport. I think this is something that should be accessible to everyone, and I hope that the institutions are able to find a way to make that actually come to fruition.

SUMMERS: You know, there are a lot of unanswered questions here still, but I think it's very clear that major college athletics - it's about to change and about to become more like professional sports perhaps than ever before. And some people might argue that in an environment where young athletes are paid like professionals and schools are able to compete financially to attract talent, there may be a danger to making these athletes into professionals at such a young age. Do you see that?

SPENCER: The concern should be overprofessionalizing student athletes without commensurate support and resources, commensurate mental health support, commensurate financial literacy and actually being taken seriously. There has to be a balance there. And so what I do want to see happen is that we do not allow the talks of the settlement and the changes here to detract from the key component of being an intercollegiate athlete, which is that educational model. And so making sure that as we move to potentially professionalize student athletes - that their educational endeavors are also prioritized. There's no reason why we can't get a win on both sides here. And as one side of the coin increases in its value, I think we can do some amazing things for academic and educational support. And I'm hoping that the NCAA and the member schools continue to prioritize that, as well as the other organizations.

SUMMERS: Kendall Spencer, thank you so much.

SPENCER: Pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
Katia Riddle
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