The NCAA is forming a working group to consider how its rules can be modified to allow college athletes to be compensated for use of their names, images and likenesses. The NCAA made it clear, however, that the group would not consider anything that could be construed as paying athletes.
NCAA president Mark Emmert and the board of governors announced Tuesday that Big East commissioner Val Ackerman and Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith will head the new federal and state legislation working group.
"This group will bring together diverse opinions from the membership -- from presidents and commissioners to student-athletes -- that will examine the NCAA's position on name, image and likeness benefits and potentially propose rule modifications tethered to education,'' Ackerman said in a statement.
"We believe the time is right for these discussions and look forward to a thorough assessment of the many complexities involved in this area.''
The NCAA said a final report from the working group is due to the board of governors in October.
NCAA rules forbid athletes in most circumstances from receiving benefits or compensation for use of their names, images and likenesses from a school or outside source. For example, college athletes cannot take part in commercial advertising or sign autographs for money -- which notably got Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel into trouble with the NCAA in 2013.
Todd Gurley is among several prominent athletes suspended by the NCAA for receiving money for autographs. In 2014, Gurley, then with the University of Georgia, received a four-game suspension after an investigation determined he had received $3,000 over two years for signed autographs and memorabilia.
"While the formation of this group is an important step to confirming what we believe as an association, the group's work will not result in paying students as employees,'' Smith said. "That structure is contrary to the NCAA's educational mission and will not be a part of this discussion.''
The NCAA's amateurism rules have faced several legal challenges in recent years and threats from lawmakers. A federal antitrust lawsuit brought by former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon in 2009 challenged the NCAA and its member schools' right to use athletes' names, images and likenesses without compensation.
The case led to the elimination of the NCAA Football video game series, and in 2014, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled the NCAA could not restrict schools from paying athletes up to $5,000 per year for names, images and likenesses. That part of the ruling was overturned on appeal, but the issue has been one that continues to hound the NCAA; how rules are applied often seems inconsistent if not illogical.
"Hmmm, I wonder where the NCAA got the idea to modify their rules to allow college athletes to be compensated for the use of their names, images and likeness," O'Bannon told ESPN on Tuesday. "Nonetheless, as I've been saying for over a decade, this is the right thing to do for college athletes."
Last year, a kicker at UCF gave up his scholarship rather than stop making money off his profitable YouTube channel, which threatened to make him ineligible. But Notre Dame basketball star Arike Ogunbowale was allowed to participate in the popular television show "Dancing with the Stars."
While the Rice Commission on College Basketball avoided making a definitive recommendation on the issue of name, image and likeness in its report to the NCAA last year, the commissioners did encourage the association to take a long look at its rules.
"It is hard for the public, and frankly for me, to understand what can be allowed within the college model -- for the life of me, I don't understand the difference between Olympic payments and participation in 'Dancing with the Stars' -- and what can't be allowed without opening the door to professionalizing college basketball,'' former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said at the time.
Recently, legislation was introduced to the House Ways and Means committee by Congressman Mark Walker (R-N.C.) aimed at lifting restrictions that keep athletes from profiting from their fame while they are in school.
"I am thankful the NCAA has created a working group to examine my Student-Athlete Equity Act and how it will empower college athletes with free-market opportunities," Walker said in response to the NCAA's announcement. "While this is encouraging, the NCAA has claimed to study this issue for years. Now they need to act to fix the injustices in their model, protect athletes and save the college sports we love."
"The NCAA is profiting on the backs of unpaid labor, and I've felt like maybe it's time where we've reached a place to right this wrong. Student-athletes are the only ones on a college campus who have to sign over their rights to their image. And 99 percent of these student-athletes will never receive any kind of compensation from a professional sports organization, so you're basically stymying any type of growth and networking. It just doesn't make any sense."
ESPN's David Hale and Myron Medcalf and The Associated Press contributed to this report.