Student athletes in the United States will be free to earn money from endorsement deals and other business ventures from Thursday after being given the greenlight by the governing body of college sport.

A statement from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) said strict rules forbidding athlete earnings from name, image and likeness had been suspended from July 1 for all incoming and current student athletes.

"This is an important day for college athletes since they all are now able to take advantage of name, image and likeness opportunities," NCAA President Mark Emmert said in a statement.

"With the variety of state laws adopted across the country, we will continue to work with Congress to develop a solution that will provide clarity on a national level.

"The current environment -- both legal and legislative -- prevents us from providing a more permanent solution and the level of detail student-athletes deserve."

The NCAA board's decision marks a seismic shift in the lucrative landscape of college sports, where athletes have always been held to strict standards of amateurism despite helping to generate billions of dollars each year for schools.

More than a dozen US states have passed laws due to go into effect making it illegal for colleges to enforce existing NCAA rules preventing athletes from profiting from their name, image or likeness (NIL).

The NCAA said Wednesday that individuals were now free to engage in NIL activities consistent with the law of the state where their school is located.

Fans pack a stadium in North Carolina for a US college football game in 2018
Fans pack a stadium in North Carolina for a US college football game in 2018 GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GRANT HALVERSON

The policy shift was described as an interim solution designed to be used until formal federal legislation regarding student athletes is passed.

The NCAA reiterated, however, that while the NIL rules had been relaxed, collegiate sport's regulations against "pay-for-play" and the offering of inducements to lure athletes to a particular school remained in effect.

"It's important any new rules maintain these principles," said Sandra Jordan, chancellor of the University of South Carolina Aiken.

College sports are hugely popular in the United States, with basketball and American football teams garnering national news coverage as well as primetime television viewing.

Games are regularly played before packed out stadiums, while college coaches can often command salaries of several million dollars per year.

Many college gridiron coaches earn salaries higher than their counterparts in the professional NFL.

However, collegiate sport's model has faced increasing scrutiny in recent years.

The US Supreme Court last week sided with students over the question of whether they can receive limited cash or non-cash benefits from schools related to their education -- something forbidden by the NCAA.

"The NCAA's business model would be flatly illegal in almost any other industry in America," Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in an opinion.