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STUDENT ATHLETES

Richard Washington & the NCAA’s Inevitable NIL Fail

San Jose State’s Richard Washington was suspended for not complying with NCAA rules on hiring agents. But the failure here is not his own.

Richard Washington was set to begin his third season at San Jose State University. Coming off a season in which he averaged 19.5 points per game, he had a real shot to be one of the top players in the Mountain West.

In the first summer during which NCAA student-athletes can sign deals to profit off their name, image and likeness, Washington did two things that should have been totally ordinary: He hired an agent and received compensation to play in a three-on-three event in Indianapolis.

Unfortunately, Washington did not fully realize that the agent he signed with was not certified with the NCAA, and the event he participated in was not properly sanctioned.. As a result, he was suspended for the entire 2021-22 Division I basketball season.

But there’s a bigger problem here than just the infraction itself.

The First NIL Suspension

At the time that Washington signed with the agent, San Jose State did not have anyone officially supervising NCAA rules compliance, a basic requirement for any self-respecting athletic department. Further, head men’s basketball coach Jean Prioleau was fired on March 12, only destabilizing the program even more.

The NIL era is brand new; expecting student-athletes to navigate these uncharted waters alone is a completely unreasonable and even reckless expectation. The failure here is not Washington’s; it falls at the feel of San Jose State athletics for being unable to protect and support him.

It’s also an indictment of the NCAA, which blatantly passed the buck to state governments and the individual schools this summer rather than issuing a single set of NIL rules that would apply uniformly nationwide.

This news keyed spirited, incensed reactions in the college basketball realm among fans and media alike chastising the NCAA for its ruling. ESPN’s Jay Bilas, who has long been in favor of permitting college athletes to earn money while in school, was among those criticizing the latest instance of perceived hypocrisy on the part of the NCAA.

The protection and empowerment of student-athletes is purportedly a fundamental ideal for the NCAA, but when one of its students wasn’t given the proper resources and support to guide his decisions during the still-new NIL era, the organization refused to have a heart despite the unusual circumstances foisted upon Washington at SJSU.

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For what it’s worth, the player himself has a solid perspective on his situation, even if he doesn’t agree with it.

“I made a mistake, but there was no one there to educate me on the draft process,” Washington said via Stadium’s Jeff Goodman. “I had no guidance. … I feel like the NCAA doesn’t care about who I am as a person. I’m just a piece of paper to them.”

This situation is a disgraceful one from a number of angles. But if the right lessons are gleaned by the right people — that’s admittedly a massive if — the story might even have a happy ending.

How the NCAA Can Fix its NIL Mess

So, what can the NCAA do in order to avoid situations like this in the future? Before anything else, there must be a unified set of proactive, comprehensive standards in place regarding the administration of the name, image, and likeness ecosystem.

Period.

The NCAA isn’t competing with NIL athletes for the same pot of money. These two ideals are in tandem with each other and the main priority is the well-being of each college athlete.

This leads us to a second critical point — should a situation need to be investigated, we have to buck the paradigm by which the athlete is the central figure in that situation by default. Punishments set precedents, but unfortunately, the NCAA evades punitive sanctions in just about every case.

When organizations tasked with protecting student-athletes fail to do so, there needs to be a system that holds them accountable, and it’s ridiculous to be left with the FBI and the federal court system as the only entities capable of doing so. We knew that something like the NIL era was coming. We’ve known it literally for years. The NCAA still waited until the very last minute and had to be convinced by force of law.

The regrettable case of Richard Washington gets even sadder when you consider just how preventable it was. If we are to take anything positive from this, it’s that we witnessed a cautionary tale laying bare just what happens when an institution doesn’t take it upon itself to build a robust compliance operation knowing that the NCAA will absolutely not be providing sufficient, clear guidance any time soon.

Expecting schools to protect their kids with a 100% success rate isn’t going to work every single time. Some athletes will fall through the cracks. But as things stand, placing this responsibility on colleges and universities still feels like an infinitely better bet than waiting around for the NCAA to sincerely support for the athletes they claim to serve.