The state of California has offered the latest salvo in the debate over whether to compensate college athletes.
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill last week that would allow student-athletes in the state to hire agents and earn endorsement money. The NCAA, which generated more than $15 billion last year, has historically fought such efforts, limiting the student-athletes to the cost of attending a given university. The law is scheduled to take effect in 2023.
Newsom described the law to the New York Times as “a big move to expose the farce and to challenge a system that is outsized in its capacity to push back.
“Every single student in the university can market their name, image and likeness; they can go and get a YouTube channel, and they can monetize that,” he said. “The only group that can’t are athletes. Why is that?”
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There are legitimate concerns about paying student-athletes. Some argue that free tuition, books, housing and meals is ample compensation for scholarship athletes. Additional money for Division I athletes also is available through “cost of attendance” allowances. They also often have access to world-class training facilities, top-notch coaches and medical staff. The universities provide a forum in which the student-athletes can showcase their talents as well.
That’s not enough, said Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association, in a statement.
“Players everywhere deserve equal rights,” he said. “The NCAA will get on board or be plunged into irrelevance. Either way, players win and fans will continue enjoying college sports.”
Salaries from the schools would not make sense, according to a Huffington Post story. Profitable sports — primarily football and basketball — help pay for other activities at the schools. That would be jeopardized if the athletes were paid to play.
There also are concerns regarding resources. Player compensation would probably widen an already significant gulf between the haves and the have nots in college sports.
In its current form, however, the California law would not cost the schools valuable resources. It would primarily allow student-athletes to get paid by an individual or organization for their name, image or likeness as long as it doesn’t “conflict with a provision of the athlete’s team contract.”
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So, what’s next?
The NCAA already is in the process of possibility retooling its rules regarding endorsements, which could comply with the California law. Or the latter could be retooled to satisfy any new guidelines the NCAA agrees upon. Past concessions by the NCAA have included limited stipends and unlimited food.
There also is the possibility that the NCAA could prohibit California schools from competing in showcase athletic events such as the College Football Playoff and March Madness.
Although the move wouldn’t be costly for schools, critics have highlighted several shortcomings of the measure. One is that highly populated metropolitan areas will have a decided advantage in how many endorsement dollars are available. A UW-Madison volleyball recruit, for example, could get a better financial package offer if she played for UCLA than with the Badgers.
Should the NCAA alter its rules, schools such as UW-Eau Claire and UW-Stout will have a say in the matter. Division III schools outnumber each of the higher two divisions in an NCAA membership of roughly 1,300.
In an interview with WAYY (790 AM) radio, Blugolds athletic director Dan Schumacher said the legislation “is going to accelerate the conversation in a big way” and will be a “constantly evolving story.”
And Schumacher warned that college athletics not become a business. “That’s where amateurism as we know it goes away,” he said.
Should UW-Eau Claire running back Austin Belot be compensated for endorsing a local restaurant or UW-Stout volleyball player Lexie Nelson earn some money for promoting an area car dealership? Probably.
But do lawmakers and the NCAA need to balance such changes with ensuring a level playing field and maintaining the amateur status of college athletes? Absolutely.
— Liam Marlaire, assistant editor