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Before March Madness, College Athletes Declare They Are #NotNCAAProperty

Rutgers guard Geo Baker, seen here last month, is one of the college basketball players leading a protest against the NCAA's rules preventing players from profiting from their own name, image and likeness.
Charlie Neibergall
Rutgers guard Geo Baker, seen here last month, is one of the college basketball players leading a protest against the NCAA's rules preventing players from profiting from their own name, image and likeness.

As the NCAA men's basketball tournament tips off in Indiana, some of the players want to remind everyone of the control that the NCAA exerts over their lives — including their names, images and likenesses.

Under the hashtag #NotNCAAProperty, a protest was launched Wednesday by Rutgers basketball player Geo Baker, Iowa basketball player Jordan Bohannon and Michigan basketball player Isaiah Livers, all upperclassmen on Big Ten teams.

"The NCAA OWNS my name image and likeness," tweeted Baker. "Someone on music scholarship can profit from an album. Someone on academic scholarship can have a tutor service. For ppl who say 'an athletic scholarship is enough.' Anything less than equal rights is never enough. I am #NotNCAAProperty."

"The argument is simple," Baker wrote on Thursday. "We deserve an opportunity to create money from our name, image, and likeness. If you don't agree with that statement, then you are saying that you believe that I, a human being, should be owned by something else."

The players launched the effort with the support of the National College Players Association, which says the protest is meant "to underscore their concern that the NCAA too often treats college athletes like dollar signs rather than people."

Another Rutgers player, Luke Nathan, noted that as a walk-on, he pays full tuition but similarly his name, image and likeness are owned by the NCAA.

After a sports reporter tweeted that the players should "be grateful," Baker replied: "Think you can definitely be grateful to play this game while also understanding there's more that should be on the table. Players ISOLATED entire year to help make this tournament happen. NCAA: rewarded w/ $900 million. Players: rewarded w/ free deodorant and small boxed meals."

The NCAA has been under increasing pressure to change its rules. As ESPN notes, six states have already passed laws that make the NCAA's current rules on amateurism illegal in the future, and others are making their way through state legislatures.

The protest also comes as the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments on March 31 in the case of NCAA v. Alston, in which it will consider whether the NCAA's limits on compensation for student athletes violate the nation's antitrust laws.

The athletes have declared four requests:

  • By July 1, changes to NCAA rules to allow all college athletes the freedom to secure representation and receive pay for use of their name, image and likeness
  • A meeting with NCAA President Mark Emmert
  • Meetings with state and federal lawmakers regarding laws to ensure physical, academic, and financial protections for college athletes
  • That the Supreme Court rule in support of college athletes in NCAA v. Alston "and to not give the NCAA any power to deny us equal freedoms"
  • Many other college basketball players have chimed in with the hashtag, as have athletes from other sports. Mitchell Goulet, who played soccer at the Division III Westfield State University, said he'd lost his eligibility to play after he was paid $150 by Puma for a video.

    Goulet said he took full ownership of having broken NCAA rules.

    "I'm not trying to absolve myself of any wrongdoing, the purpose of this tweet is to show how greedy and restrictive those rules are," Goulet wrote. "I played D3 so I was not on any type of athletic scholarship. Just played for the love of the game."

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    Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.
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