Sabrina Ionescu, the No. 1 pick in the recent WNBA draft, has been cashing in on her own brand since turning professional.

If Ionescu, the former Oregon women’s basketball superstar, were a few years younger she could have profited off her fame while still playing for the Ducks.

The NCAA announced on Wednesday that its Board of Governors recommended a rule change that would allow college athletes to be compensated for their name, image and likeness, also known as NIL.

“Throughout our efforts to enhance support for college athletes, the NCAA has relied upon considerable feedback from and the engagement of our members, including numerous student-athletes, from all three divisions,” Michael V. Drake, chair of the board and president of Ohio State, said in the NCAA release. “Allowing promotions and third-party endorsements is uncharted territory.”

The board’s recommendations now will move to the rules-making structure in each of the NCAA’s three divisions for further consideration.

The national perception is major college football and men’s basketball players will command the most lucrative NIL deals.

But a recent study conducted by AthleticDirectorU and Navigate Research determined Ionescu would have made more money than any other Oregon athlete last year.

The study, which was completed before the COVID-19 health crisis wreaked havoc on the economy and sports, estimated Ionescu’s endorsement value at $251,000, the highest of any female college athlete last season and ninth of all college athletes.

Social media influence is factored into the formula. Oregon softball players Haley Cruse ($115,000) and Jasmine Sievers ($63,000), who have large social media followings, ranked 13th and 17th, respectively, in the study’s endorsement projection.

The content you've all been waiting for on #InternationalDanceDay.#GoDucks pic.twitter.com/ZQ0sdYKjJu

— Oregon Softball (@OregonSB) April 29, 2020

No Oregon football or men’s basketball players were among the 25 most valuable college athletes.

LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, the 2019 Heisman trophy winner and the No. 1 pick in last week’s NFL draft, led the study with a projected annual endorsement value of $700,000.

North Carolina’s Cole Anthony ($476,000) and Duke freshman Cassius Stanley ($405,000) were the only men’s basketball players projected to make more than Ionescu.

“I certainly believe that in any way that we can help the student-athletes, I think it’s our obligation, our responsibility,” Oregon football coach Mario Cristobal, who has a $2.6 million salary, said earlier this year. “We certainly do a lot for them here. I know what it’s like; I’ve been there. I don’t know enough about how, what the rules are, what the format is for that. I’m all for making sure that we maximize what they can benefit or how they can benefit.”

Universities will still not be compensating players beyond the traditional scholarships already provided many athletes.

The NCAA is requiring “guardrails” around any future NIL activities, including prohibiting “pay for play” deals, school or conference involvement and use of NIL for recruiting by schools or boosters.

The return of the popular EA Sports “NCAA Football” video game is not expected to be allowed based on the wording of the board’s recommendations.

“The NCAA’s work to modernize name, image and likeness continues, and we plan to make these important changes on the original timeline, no later than January 2021,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, the board’s working group co-chair, said in a release. “The board’s decision today provides further guidance to each division as they create and adopt appropriate rules changes.”

Landmark day for the NCAA, which, after 100 years is strict amateurism rules, is finally on board with athletes making money from endorsements.

And all anyone’s talking about is the “no video game” part.

— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) April 29, 2020

Last September, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 206 into law, effective in 2023, changing the state’s education code to note that any college or post-secondary institution cannot prevent student-athletes from earning compensation off their NIL.

Other states followed suit, which pushed the NCAA to react.

“We realize change is coming and we’re working closely with our members in our conference, but also our peers across the other (Power 5) conferences,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said before Ionescu and the Ducks defeated Stanford in the Pac-12 Tournament championship game last month in Las Vegas. “Given the California law that passed, we will be dealing with new sets of rules or new sets of laws that allow for student-athletes to derive benefit beyond the value of their scholarship and their stipends.”

Ionescu’s No. 20 replica jerseys were prominent at Matthew Knight Arena last season.

According to the NCAA’s recommendation, college athletes will not be allowed to use their schools' logos or markings in any sponsorship deals, but they will be permitted to use agent representation in making any deals.

Ionescu became the first WNBA player to be included in the EA Sports “NBA Live Mobile” video game. The Oregon icon has also signed a lucrative contract with Nike.

New @sabrina_i20 merch alert! Shop now! https://t.co/IxKi389Cq6 pic.twitter.com/Agl9fw0HXy

— New York Liberty (@nyliberty) April 29, 2020

Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert, who was not on social media during his collegiate career, has been promoting several products since being drafted No. 6 overall last Thursday by the Los Angeles Chargers.

“When you go out here and you play four years, not everybody has a shot to play in the NFL,” former Oregon linebacker Troy Dye, a fourth-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings, said of the NIL movement last season. “They should be able to get compensated for the time they do put in. It doesn’t make sense to have a guy go four years, put his whole body out there, get hurt, banged up and have nothing to show for it after that except for a degree.

“I think just California is doing the right thing, and hopefully the rest of the nation will follow suit.”

The NCAA will still seek a federal law to keep individual states from passing their own legislation.

Membership will draft its legislation by the end of October. A formal vote will be taken by schools at the next convention in January and new rules will go into effect no later than the 2021-22 academic year.

UO president Michael Schill announced this week that university leaders are making plans to bring students back to campus for in-person learning this fall.

During a recent teleconference with Mike Pence, the conference commissioners informed the vice president that college football will not return until students are back on campus.

The Ducks are scheduled to open the 2020 season on Sept. 5 against North Dakota State. Football generates over 70% of Oregon’s athletics revenue.

“As we evolve, the (NCAA) will continue to identify the guardrails to further support student-athletes within the context of college sports and higher education,” said Val Ackerman, commissioner of the Big East and working group co-chair. “In addition, we are mindful of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on higher education, college sports and students at large.

“We hope that modernized name, image and likeness rules will further assist college athletes during these unprecedented times and beyond.”

Contact reporter Ryan Thorburn at rthorburn@registerguard.com or 541-338-2330, and follow him on Twitter @By_RyanThorburn and Instagram @rg_ducksports. Want more stories like this? Subscribe to get unlimited access and support local journalism.