Seemingly within minutes of Newsom ratifying the bill, which won’t go into effect until Jan. 1, 2023, the Pacific-12 Conference was putting out a news release on how the law would have “very significant negative consequences” on all of college athletics because it would “professionalize” college athletes in California by allowing them to get paid for their name, image and likeness. Commissioner Larry Scott didn’t put his name on the release, but he did say that the law would somehow affect “Olympic sports,” which is the current NCAA euphemism for nonrevenue sports.
Naturally, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany also insisted that paying athletes anything over the cost of a scholarship would make the athletes professionals. The most amusing comment may have come from SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, who, in adding his voice to the brigade said: “There is potential for abuse by external influences.”
The SEC commissioner claiming something new might lead to abuse by external influences, as if that’s never happened in his league? Seriously? He forgot to say try the veal and tip your waiters.
Everyone knows what’s going on here: For many, many years the NCAA has been able to perpetrate the myth of the amateur athlete. That’s why administrators and many coaches and TV talking heads use the term”student-athlete” so often you wonder if they’re being paid for each time the phrase crosses their lips.
There are plenty of college athletes who get their degrees. But almost all of the best and most famous are training to be professional athletes. There is nothing wrong with that. It isn’t the fault of the one-and-done basketball players that they have to pretend to be students for a year (actually, for a semester) because the rules require it. The same is true for football players who have to wait three years before turning pro.
But let’s not kid ourselves. These guys are pros-in-training just like minor league athletes. Except they aren’t getting paid — unless it’s under the table.
The NCAA campaign to attack the Fair Pay to Play Act is riddled with excuses that call the law wrong or, more laughably, unnecessary. Emmert keeps claiming that the NCAA is working on ways to make things more equitable for athletes. This is a little bit like saying that the NFL teams are working on finding Colin Kaepernick a job.
It isn’t going to happen unless an outside force makes it happen.
The California law is only a first step, but it is an important one. Already, similar legislation being is being discussed in reportedly 20 to 25 other states. That would certainly weaken Emmert’s threat to declare ineligible anyone in a state with a law similar to Calirfornia’s. There is also talk of federal legislation.
What’s most remarkable about all this is the amount of disinformation floating around. While many important coaches have come out in favor of the law, or at least the principle behind it, there are many who either don’t understand it or have convinced themselves that allowing outside entities to pay players will somehow affect recruiting — which is the thing they care about most.
Some coaches cited the argument that it will hurt nonrevenue teams. Point No. 1: the new law won’t cost athletic departments a dime. They won’t be paying athletes anything beyond Delany’s precious cost of scholarship. In fact, in some places, nonrevenue athletes might benefit from the law. Sure, most of the athletes who are going to get paid are going to be the ones who play on television, but — especially at schools in smaller towns — nonrevenue athletes might make some money.
How? Why not pay a star swimmer, soccer player, tennis player or golfer to put on clinics for local kids? When Oklahoma State wins the NCAA golf championship, maybe local businesses around the state might want to use some of their players to promote products — or their golf courses. One can easily imagine Rickie Fowler, back in his days as a Cowboy, showing up on local television, smiling his beatific smile and saying, “Blank-blank golf course is as good a public course I’ve ever played. Come on out and give it a try.”
The issue that most coaches cite, though, is this: It will give power schools an unfair advantage in recruiting. As if they don’t have unfair advantages now? Why do you think power schools continue to spend millions of dollars in the facilities arms race?
One of the first calls I got on this was from Lefty Driesell, the retired Hall of Famer who recruited players to both smaller programs (Davidson, James Madison, Georgia State) and to a power school (Maryland).
“I got players when I was at Davidson because I outworked other coaches,” he said. “Now, a guy at Davidson will have no chance because Kentucky or Duke or Kansas will be able to get boosters to pay the best players.”
I asked Lefty how many one-and-done players had gone to Davidson, James Madison or Georgia State since the rule came into existence 12 years ago. Lefty paused and said, “Well, maybe their coaches aren’t working as hard as I did.”
Maybe. Or maybe the built-in advantages those schools already have — facilities, TV exposure, Hall of Fame coaches, charter airplanes, five-star hotels (in addition to the five-star locker rooms — carry the day. That won’t change.
Then again, it might be nice if there was some kind of ceiling on what a recruit can be guaranteed by outside forces before he commits to a school. That’s where the NCAA comes in. Instead of whining and threatening that this is the end of civilization, it needs to really sit down (not Emmert’s “we’re working on it” sort of sit down) and work with coaches and former players to create reasonable guidelines for allowing the players to benefit from their efforts, which generate multibillion dollar TV contracts.
All the yammering by administrators isn’t going to stop this movement from going forward. Neither is disinformation on who the law will actually affect. Not even screaming “student-athlete” from the highest mountaintop is going to keep this train from leaving the station.
Right now, the NCAA has a little more than three years to come up with a legitimate proposal to move into the 21st century. That shouldn’t be too difficult.