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Whit Babcock

BLACKSBURG — The Virginia Tech athletic department updated the Board of Visitors’ governance and administration committee this week during a virtual meeting on rule changes recently proposed by the NCAA regarding name, image and likeness.  

The NCAA’s board of governors recommended rule changes at the end of April that would allow student-athletes to receive compensation for third-party endorsements as well as personal appearances and social media promotion.

“We are all for student athletes being treated like general students because they are general students,” Tech athletic director Whit Babcock said during the meeting on Wednesday. “They happened to have the ability to play athletics at an incredibly high level. So if there is a store downtown and somebody wants to model clothes for them, great. We think that's fair.”

But Babcock acknowledged there are a lot of details for the NCAA to work out.

“This is one of the bigger issues we will tackle in our time in college athletics,” Babcock said. “Not for hyperbole.”

The push comes as individual state governments have passed their own legislation that would allow student-athletes to benefit financially from their name, image and likeness. The federal government has also taken interest in the issue.

The NCAA hopes to enact legislation next year that would take effect for the 2021 academic year for all three divisions.

Tech senior associate athletic director for internal operations Angie Littlejohn handled much of the presentation to the board. She outlined the current rules structure and the NCAA’s “guiding principles” in the discussions.

“I think the most important thing is that our student athletes are to be treated similar to non-student athletes,” Littlejohn said. “We want everyone to be treated the same. The other kind of top priority is making sure that we don't allow name, image and likeness to be used to recruit a student athlete to a certain school or entice them to transfer or to stay at a specific institution. The other one we really want to make sure that’s very clear for numerous reasons is that they are students and not employees of the university.”

Littlejohn emphasized the NCAA’s efforts to lobby Congress for legislation that would help “smooth the way” for the rule changes.

“The main thing that we want to make sure of is that there is some sort of federal preemption and for the non-lawyers it means there are all of these state laws that are getting ready to come into play and we need an overarching federal rule that makes the rules the same no matter what state you are in,” Littlejohn said.

One of Babcock's bigger concerns is the rule changes opening up an “incredible can of worms” in the recruiting process.

“Where this gets just quite dicey is when it's offered in the recruiting process,” Babcock said. “...All of this passes with no guardrails, you can do an autograph signing and charge for your autograph and people could pay you whatever they wanted. Well, if it's used in the recruiting process before the value is established, it could be, hey, if you come here, with this signing set up for you for ‘X’ amount of dollars.”

Mike Niziolek is the Virginia Tech football beat writer for The Roanoke Times. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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