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US college authorities approve plan for athlete compensation

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Los Angeles (AFP)

United States college authorities on Tuesday approved plans allowing athletes to profit from their names, images and likenesses in a landmark decision set to revolutionise the lucrative world of collegiate sport.

The powerful National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) said in a statement it had directed its three divisions to update rules and bylaws governing athlete compensation to reflect the 21st century.

"We must embrace change to provide the best possible experience for college athletes," NCAA board chairman Michael Drake said in a statement following a meeting in Atlanta. "Additional flexibility in this area can and must continue to support college sports as a part of higher education."

The NCAA announcement comes less than a month after California governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill allowing college athletes to hire agents and make money from endorsements.

The California legislation is not due to come into effect until 2023. Newsom said last month he hoped the legislation would prompt other states to follow suit.

College sports are hugely popular in the United States, with basketball and American football teams garnering national news coverage as well as primetime television viewing.

Games are regularly played before packed out stadiums, while college coaches can often command salaries of several million dollars per year.

Many college gridiron coaches earn salaries higher than their counterparts in the professional NFL.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney recently inked a 10-year deal which will see him paid a record $93 million through 2028.

Yet the athletes whose performances drive the money-spinning world of college sports are strictly forbidden from being paid to play, or from earning money from activities associated with their athletic prowess.

The NCAA's rule change announced Tuesday paves the way for athletes to appear in commercials, adverts and video games.

It also potentially allows athletes to earn royalties from college merchandise bearing their individual names.

In announcing their board decision on Tuesday, the NCAA said athletes would be allowed to earn compensation "in a manner consistent with the collegiate model."

The college sporting body said a working group which included student-athletes, athletics directors and NCAA officials past and present would continue gathering feedback until next April.

The three divisions of US college sports had been asked to create any new rules beginning immediately, but no later than January 2021.

The NCAA said the new rules should follow several key principles, notably that athletes should continue to be barred from compensation for athletics performance or participation.

The guidelines should also reaffirm that "student-athletes are students first and not employees of the university."

"As a national governing body, the NCAA is uniquely positioned to modify its rules to ensure fairness and a level playing field for student-athletes," NCAA President Mark Emmert said. "The board's action today creates a path to enhance opportunities for student-athletes while ensuring they compete against students and not professionals."

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