Steelers Beat Writer

Dale Lolley is a contributor to the Observer-Reporter and has been covering the Pittsburgh Steelers since 1993.

The NCAA has been dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. And it still can’t get things right.

The NCAA on Wednesday approved a plan that will allow student-athletes to earn money from endorsements and a number of other ventures, including social media.

It’s a big step toward college athletes being paid for use of their likeness, names and images, for which they previously were not permitted to earn money, even though universities could.

It also came a day before a number of states across the country enacted legislation that would have made the NCAA rules about college athletes not being able to earn money moot. So, the NCAA was late to the party … as usual.

As such, it probably doesn’t go far enough. While the shift is a major change in the NCAA’s amateurism rules, it also will create an uneven playing field.

The new rules will allow athletes to profit from signing autographs, teaching camps or lessons, starting their own businesses, accepting money from advertisers for use of their likeness and monetizing social media accounts. Athletes also will be permitted to sign with agents or other representatives to help them acquire endorsement deals.

But it keeps intact rules in place that prohibit universities from paying athletes directly.

What does this mean?

Think about it.

Athletes at some of the more prestigious college programs are going to reap the benefits from this rule. Others? Not so much.

And for players such as Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who makes a lot of money off the field and could have done so as a college student, that could be a reason to stay in school another year. Maybe Smith-Schuster, a master marketer, would have stayed at USC for another year instead of turning pro at 20 years old. That’s not a bad thing.

But don’t think for a second that, for example, if a school such as Alabama wants a highly touted football recruit such as Najee Harris, it won’t be able to find a booster who can funnel some money his way for “use of his likeness” in a marketing campaign.

That could create a whole new set of issues for the NCAA.

How is that any different than the local automobile dealer who is a big booster simply handing out money after games?

There’s also differing rules across the country when it comes to gambling, tobacco and alcohol. Some states have no issue allowing athletes to endorse such things. Others do. And the NCAA won’t prohibit those things in states that permit them.

So, it’s not even close to a level playing field.

The NCAA is saying these rules are temporary. That had better be the case. This is just too bland of a deal to solve any of the issues. It’s simply a Band-Aid.

Until the colleges themselves, which have reaped the benefits of practically free labor – a scholarship, room and board is nothing when programs are bringing in millions – start paying the athletes directly, this only increases the differences between the haves and have nots.

The NCAA is allowing players to earn money from outside sources. But none of this will affect the bottom line for its member universities, which keep their hold on free labor intact.

This is simply window dressing to keep the legislators out of the issue.

n When you’re counting on Ka’ai Tom to break up a no-hitter at Coors Field, you’ve got a pretty bad baseball team.

But that’s what happened Tuesday to the Pirates, who were being no-hit by Germán Márquez through eight innings.

Adam Frazier, Bryan Reynolds and Ke’Bryan Hayes are Major League starting position players. Jacob Stallings would be a nice No. 2 catcher on most teams.

The rest? Bench players all around.

And the aforementioned Tom? He’s a minor leaguer, a Rule 5 pick who is getting way too many at-bats because of injuries.

The bullpen has some nice pitchers, but it’s been grossly overworked because of a rotation that struggles to get to five innings pitched each game.

And yet when some of these pieces are traded off later this month, people will complain. This roster and the minor league system that feeds it were bereft of talent when general manager Ben Cherrington took over.

That’s going to take some time to rebuild. They’re on their way toward doing that. But there is a lot more work to be done.

n I wonder if the local population realizes what crown jewels we have here in Washington in the two baseball parks that sit in North Franklin Township that are home to the Wild Things and Washington & Jefferson baseball?

The Beast of the East youth baseball tournament started Thursday all over southeastern Ohio, the West Virginia panhandle and in Southwestern Pa.

The only facilities to get games played were right here in Washington. The rest were canceled, though there also were games played at Lew Hays Pony Field in the Washington 13-year-old Invitational Tournament.

Dale Lolley covers the Steelers for DKPittsburghSports.com and writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.

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