Cal Athletics introduces GOLDEN program for student-athletes

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This past week, the NCAA rolled out a new NIL package for student-athletes. These three letters represent the athlete’s name, image and likeness and will give athletes the opportunity to build their own personal brand.

This is a radical change in policy for the NCAA, which has long held that “amateurism” is part of what makes college athletics special. This stance has long prevented athletes from gaining any sort of income from their athletic endeavors, while both the NCAA and its institutions were allowed to profit off of talented players who drew fans into stadiums.

The very bylaws of the NCAA stated that “Athletes are stripped of their amateur status and thus their right to participate within NCAA sporting events if they receive payment for their athletic skills,” while coaches and athletic departments were free to make sponsorship deals with whomever they saw fit.

Those disparities, combined with the fact that NCAA teams made a combined $18.8 billion in 2019 (of which $3.6 billion went to scholarships and $3.7 billion went to coaching salaries), laid the groundwork for the new NIL.

Additionally, California set the standard for the nation way back in 2019, as SB 206 (better known as the “Fair Pay to Play” act) allowed student-athletes in the state of California to receive a profit from their likeness if they so chose to. Several states followed suit, and here lie the NCAA’s claims of “amateurism,” finally on the cutting room floor.

There remains one more person to thank in welcoming in this new legislation — one, who for a brief amount of time, was the ire of college sports fans. Yes, this is Ed O’Bannon’s vindication. For those unfamiliar, O’Bannon was a prominent athlete at UCLA who felt that his likeness being used in one of Electronic Arts’ many NCAA video games was a violation of both antitrust laws and his likeness.

This led to the landmark case EDWARD O’BANNON, et al. v. NATIONAL COLLEGIATE ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION; ELECTRONIC ARTS INC.; and COLLEGIATE LICENSING COMPANY, which then led to the immediate halt of any and all of the NCAA-related video games. A minor win for fairness, but the reality was that student-athletes were not making any more money than they were before O’Bannon (that is to say: no money at all).

Enter a new age of college athletics marked by an adjusted power dynamic between student-athletes and the NCAA as well as, among other things, the return of NCAA-related video games.

This age is to be a GOLDEN one for the Bears. Student-athletes, armed with their new NIL rights, may finally make a profit off of their likeness and personal brand. Cal, being the ever-progressive and quick-thinking institution that it is, has put the necessary pieces together to ensure that student-athletes are supported in pursuing their business endeavors.

Speaking of business, the GOLDEN program has one of the best campus partnerships one could ask for at UC Berkeley (or the world), as campus’s Haas School of Business will assist student-athletes in all sorts of ways, from exploring sponsorship opportunities to selecting an agent.

Several athletes have already taken advantage of the new NIL, with star players such as Kuony Deng creating Cameo accounts, as well as athletes such as Collin Moore who have partnered with the media conglomerate Barstool Sports. Opportunities and sponsorships are still in the early stages for many athletes, but the knowledge that it is possible to have an income while participating in athletics is sure to be a comforting thought for many student-athletes.

For Cal’s 850 student-athletes and all prospective recruits, there really could not be a better mix of academics, athletics and professional opportunities. With more than 40 Fortune 500 companies in the mix and plenty of institutional support, the Bears look poised to continue their excellence in the classroom and on the field.

Jesse Stewart covers football. Contact him at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter @jessedstew.