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Armour: NCAA Breaks Rules for ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ and that’s Progress

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Notre Dame's Arike Ogunbowale, center, celebrates with the 2018 NCAA women's basketball national championship trophy after nailing the game-winning shot against Mississippi State. Photo: Courtesy of the University of Notre Dame

By Nancy Armour |

Hallelujah. For once, the NCAA is showing some common sense.

Rather than its usual myopic devotion to its antiquated rule book, the NCAA has given its blessing to Notre Dame guard Arike Ogunbowale’s participation on the new season of Dancing With the Stars. Not only that, she can keep any prize money she wins, as well as that coveted mirror ball.

If this seems like a no-brainer, it is. One of the most-watched shows on TV featuring Ogunbowale in its cast is nothing but positive publicity for Notre Dame, women’s basketball, college athletics and, yes, Ogunbowale and her career.

Which is why it’s so stunning the NCAA went along with it.

If you read the NCAA rules – Bylaw 12.4.1, to be exact – Ogunbowale shouldn’t be able to participate. NCAA rules prohibit athletes from profiting on anything that results from “the publicity, reputation, fame or personal following that he or she has obtained because of athletics ability.” It’s safe to say that Ogunbowale wasn’t on ABC’s radar until she hit those buzzer-beating three-pointers to beat UConn in the Final Four and then clinch the national championship for Notre Dame.

Arike Ogunbowale. Photo: University of Notre Dame

But the NCAA found a loophole and is giving Ogunbowale a hand to help her squeeze through it. She can’t do any promotional work for the show, other than announcing she’s on it, because that would capitalize on her “athletics ability.” Any prize money she wins would be the result of her dancing achievements, however, and thus would be hers to keep.

Is it hypocritical for the NCAA to subvert its own rules? Of course it is. Is it the right thing to do? Absolutely.

The NCAA’s rules are from a bygone era, when college athletics were truly amateur sports. But they’re a multi-billion dollar industry now. The NCAA, conferences, schools, coaches – they’re all getting rich off of “amateur athletics” while the students responsible for generating all that money get only a scholarship in return.

That’s not to say a scholarship is worthless. Far from it. For some athletes, it’s the only way they can afford to go to college. But it’s long past time to stop pretending that athletes don’t deserve to reap the financial benefits of the many, many, many millions they’re bringing in.

Purists howl at the idea of any additional compensation for college athletes, claiming they’ll be no different than professional athletes. Few are suggesting it go that far, however. Most would be satisfied with the Olympic model, where an athlete can profit off his or her name, image and likeness.

Which brings us back to Ogunbowale and her DWTS appearance.

She’ll never be more popular than she is now, gracing the cover of Sports Illustratedand hobnobbing with Ellen DeGeneres and Kobe Bryant. Why shouldn’t she take advantage of that? If the star of Notre Dame’s choir was asked to appear in Pitch Perfect 85, or whatever the next sequel in that franchise is, there’d be high-fiving all around, not urgent meetings with lawyers and compliance officers.

Ogunbowale’s participation on DWTS is not going to bring about the downfall of college athletics, and it’s refreshing to see the NCAA acknowledge that. Hypocritical, but refreshing.

If the NCAA can bend its rules for Ogunbowale, it can – and should – do the same for everybody else.

This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

**Editor’s Note: Arike Ogunbowale was selected as the United States Sports Academy’s March Female Athlete of the Month.**

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