California’s Committee on Higher Education passed a vote to proceed with a bill that would permit athletes competing at the state’s colleges and universities to profit off their name, image and likeness without forfeiting eligibility (i.e. the rights afforded to Olympic athletes). The state’s Appropriations Committee will next review the legislation (likely in mid-August). Should it gain their approval, the bill would be up for an assembly-wide vote before making its way to Governor Gavin Newsom for final signature. Naturally, the NCAA opposes the bill. Senator Nancy Skinner has accused the organization of “bullying” and of using stall tactics to dissuade legislatures from moving it forward.
Howie Long-Short: Chargers lineman Russell Okung, advocating for the bill, told Committee members that the NCAA’s current system is akin to “how prisoners are treated – provided room and board and allowed to work without a chance to be paid fair market value for their services.” While the vote was unanimous (9-0, one member abstained), I can’t imagine that silly comparison – they don’t have facilities like this in prison – strengthened what is already a strong case for those in favor.
Len Elmore is one of the ACC’s 50 greatest basketball players of all-time, a former player agent and currently serving as a professor at Columbia University, so unlike Okung he’s able to provide an objective opinion and he’s not banging the ‘college athletes are being exploited’ drum. He says that student athletes understand “what they’re foregoing when they sign that letter of intent and if they’re looking for compensation beyond the value of a scholarship (and the additional benefits received that are ‘tethered to education’) there are other avenues to go down.” But the former Maryland great agrees that the one concession the NCAA needs to make is granting athletes permission to monetize their name, image and likeness – “those are natural rights, they can’t be taken away from a person and if a player’s name, image or likeness is used for marketing or promotional purposes they should be compensated monetarily.”
Should California pass the Fair Pay to Play Act, schools within the state would theoretically gain a significant competitive advantage – it’s certainly reasonable to assume that players would begin to flock out west. The NCAA has suggested it would consider excluding the CA schools from sanctioned championship events, but it seems more likely that they’d elect to alter their bylaws (and allow student athletes nationwide to monetize their name, image and likeness) to re-level the playing field before other states follow California’s lead and force their hand; the Indianapolis based organization has already formed a ‘group’ to discuss the possibility. Either way, the NCAA is going to have to make a decision quickly; if the bill becomes law, the legislation would take effect in January 2023.
The proposed bill allows for players to hire agents and attorneys to manage their business affairs. While on the surface that may sound logical – one can’t expect a college student to be negotiating their own marketing deals – involving agents in college athletics is more likely to “add to the problem, than be part of the solution.” Elmore says that “it’s such a competitive business, once an agent gets their hooks into a player they’ll do whatever it takes to keep them. So, unless those representing athletes are going to start doing what’s right, instead of acting in their own self-interests, NCAA violations would run rampant.”
Allowing players to monetize their own name, image and likeness will lead to a scenario in which schools with the greatest resources gain even more power. The bill being considered “restricts schools from prohibiting player compensation, but it doesn’t dictate how payments are delivered. Those able to offer the most in the way of marketing opportunities are going to have an awful lot of leverage when recruiting players (even if they can’t explicitly offer sponsorship deals as part of a scholarship package).”
Fan Marino: To be clear, while Elmore referenced “other potential avenues” besides college sports, he’s not advocating for kids to take them; it’s his belief that spending time on a college campus best prepares individuals for both their pro career and the remainder of their life. He reminds that “football and basketball players aren’t playing for their rookie contract, it’s their second contract that is most lucrative – and players only get that second contract if they fulfill their potential.” It’s a valid point. If you look at the NBA players with super-max contracts – Curry, Harden, Westbrook, Lillard, Wall and Antetokounmpo – all but Antetokounmpo went to school and of the remainder, only Wall left after his freshman season. Kemba Walker, who passed on a super max contract this summer is another example of a player that benefited from an extended college career.
For those who enjoy video games, good news; permitting players to cash in on their name, image and likeness would certainly result in the return of EA Sports’ NCAA Football game for the first time since ’14 – and this time with player names!
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