President Drake watches as Ohio State plays in the first half of the game against Michigan State on Oct. 5. Ohio State won 34-10. Credit: Cori Wade | Assistant Photo Editor

University President and chair of the NCAA Board of Governors Michael V. Drake said in September he opposed the prospect of student-athletes profiting from their name, image and likeness in a WOSU Radio interview.

Drake changed course Tuesday, as the board voted unanimously to allow college athletes the opportunity to benefit from their publicity rights, according to an NCAA media release. The board directed the NCAA’s three divisions to begin looking at updates for their policies after the vote, which took place at Emory University in Atlanta.

“We must embrace change to provide the best possible experience for college athletes,” Drake said in the release. “Additional flexibility in this area can and must continue to support college sports as a part of higher education. This modernization for the future is a natural extension of the numerous steps NCAA members have taken in recent years to improve support for student-athletes, including full cost of attendance and guaranteed scholarships.”

The board recommended that its divisions make adjustments to policies no later than January 2021.

The vote came after the recommendations of an NCAA working group that included Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, which had been investigating the matter for the past several months.

The day after California’s Fair Pay for Play act gave student-athletes in the state the legal right to compensation for their identity Sept. 30, Smith raised questions about the dangers of player payment in collegiate athletics at a press conference, including the creation of uneven competition and lack of regulation.

Ohio State men’s basketball head coach Chris Holtmann said Tuesday he has had several conversations with Smith on the matter, but said that this is a “good step.”

“I think we all recognize this is just a matter of time for this to get done and some could say it’s long overdue,” Holtmann said. “Like most of my colleagues, I’m in favor, I think it’s a good idea.”

Former UCLA student-athlete and founder of the non-profit advocacy group the National College Players Association, Ramogi Huma, called the NCAA’s announcement smoke and mirrors. Huma said that the NCAA’s language of “opportunity to benefit” deviates from the language in California’s law, which allows monetary compensation.

“Economic freedom is a core value in this country,” Huma said. “The NCAA is advocating for restrictions in the form of quote-unquote benefits that it defines, rather than allowing players the same economic freedoms afforded to every other student and American.”

The board provided guidelines for the creation of new rules, including distinguishing collegiate and professional opportunities, protecting the recruiting process, prioritizing education and not permitting compensation for athletics performance or participation.

“It’s always been a topic of discussion, especially at a big university like The Ohio State,” redshirt junior guard CJ Walker said. “Your jersey, your pictures are everywhere throughout campus and different advertisements, things like that. So it’s something that you always want to know about, but you never just figure out the details or know who to talk to about it.”

U.S. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio, who represents Northeast Ohio and played wide receiver for the Ohio State football team from 2003-06, said in a statement he was encouraged by the board’s vote. 

“I look forward to continuing to work alongside coaches, players, universities and the NCAA to ensure there is one consistent, nationwide policy on this issue and that appropriate guardrails are met to protect college athletes from bad actors and maintain the collegiate environment that makes college sports so special,” he said. 

In order to gather more information and provide further recommendations, the working group will continue to look into the matter through April, according to the release.