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Former Michigan football star Desmond Howard: NIL rights long overdue, shift power to college athletes
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Former Michigan football star Desmond Howard: NIL rights long overdue, shift power to college athletes

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DETROIT — Way back in the early 1990s, Desmond Howard dazzled with his playmaking as a receiver and return specialist at Michigan.

He left little doubt after scoring on a 93-yard punt return against Ohio State in 1991 that he was thinking of the game’s biggest prize when he fashioned a Heisman pose in the end zone. He would win the coveted Heisman Trophy the next month.

Now, Howard is an analyst on ESPN's "College GameDay" and a proponent of college athletes monetizing their name, image and likeness as of July 1. He hasn’t given much thought to how he could have profited while at Michigan in large part because the game was so different in terms of television rights and coaches’ salaries.

“It’s like night and day compared to where it was when I played, and then you add on social media,” Howard told The Detroit News. “You have these young student-athletes who can create different revenue streams for themselves, and the NCAA didn’t want them to do that at all. They don't want them to make a penny unless they're involved.

“We could have made some money, but compared to what's out there now, the stakes are just so much higher that it’s not even comparable to what these kids can make nowadays. You have so many different revenue streams that they can tap into. We didn’t have anything like that when I was in college.”

Many college athletes have enormous social media followings and companies can latch on to those platforms to advertise.

The ruling handed down from the U.S. Supreme Court on June 21 was unanimous

“I've always felt like there were two schools of thought as far as paying athletes,” Howard said. “One school of thought was just pay ‘em. Pay them, increase the stipend. The second school of thought was pay them for their name, image and likeness. And I always thought that would be able to catch on quicker and that people will be able to understand that one faster.

“I was always baffled that people did not understand that players should be paid for their likeness. I consistently say that this whole model where you have like these 17-, 18-year-olds signing away their likeness for perpetuity, all these adults are OK with this because they all make the money. That was always mind-blowing to me, like, this is ridiculous.”

What Howard loves about athletes profiting off their name, image and likeness is that this will benefit all college athletes.

“That's the beauty of it — it’s not like it’s gender specific, it’s gender neutral,” Howard said. “I mean, women can make money off of this, just like men. And you do have these athletes who have these huge followings, who are technology and social media savvy. They know how to work it where they can benefit, which it should work in their favor. If you have that type of knowledge and that type of savviness about you then you should benefit from it. Plus, on top of that, you're doing whatever you're doing as a student-athlete at the school for the athletic program, too. I love the fact that these female athletes get to benefit from it also.”

Howard also thinks that athletes being able to profit in this NIL world might encourage some football players who are considering leaving early but could boost their NFL draft stock with another year to stay in college for that extra year.

“A lot of them, they take the chance and roll the dice simply because they need to make the money,” Howard said. “They need to make money. So now some of them might think, ‘OK, I can hold off another year and improve my stock and improve my draft status because I'm making a little money.' "

As a former player and longtime observer of college athletics, Howard said it has been interesting to see how it’s evolving, particularly these last few weeks. Last month, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously against the NCAA in the NCAA v. Alston, but it was Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s scorching concurring opinion that drew the most attention.

“Nowhere else in America can businesses get away with agreeing not to pay their workers a fair market rate,” Kavanaugh wrote. “And under ordinary principles of antitrust law, it is not evident why college sports should be any different. The NCAA is not above the law.”

That was pivotal, Howard said, in terms of a momentum shift.

“These student-athletes have a tremendous amount of power, and I think they're starting to realize how much power that they have,” Howard said. “Justice Kavanaugh came down on them hard about this model that NCAA has been using for so long. It’s also telling that it was a unanimous. It’s crazy, like, no, this is a shutout. This is unanimous. This is how crazy this is, you’ve been doing this to these kids for this long.

“I think this has proven the NCAA’s worth wasn't as great as we all thought. I thought they were the governing body of the NCAA and whatever they say goes, but with COVID-19, it pretty much gave us an opportunity to see what was really behind that curtain. They were exposed when COVID-19 hit and they had no protocols, no guidelines, no answers. Every conference was out for themselves, and I was like, ‘Wait, what?’ So they've been pretty much exposed. That's the other part of this equation and it’s really interesting to keep an eye on, too.”

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