Here’s some counsel for the NCAA, its administrators, its member schools, their administrators, their coaches and everybody else who works in, profits from or, by extension, loves college sports and enjoys watching and following them.
Relax. It’s going to be OK.
Don’t relax in the sense of putting your feet up on the desk and doing nothing, or falling back into line with the mind-numbing stance of the NCAA of the past, which is basically to avoid earnestly considering proper adjustments to the way the organization runs and rules college sports.
That’s not it.
Rather, ease up on going into a frenzy over what California’s recently passed Fair Pay to Play Act will do, what it will mean for sports across the college landscape. Don’t freak out and issue or buy into apocalyptic threats about the way this bill is going to destroy college sports, certainly in California and eventually in every other state, complaining about its destructive ramifications as a means of somehow trying to halt its effect, and maybe use the courts or Congress or public opinion as an avenue to completely reverse effects of the legislation.
Ease off the fear tactics and get to work finding a proper approach to managing a new model, one in which college athletes can profit from their own name, likeness and image, the same way every other college student can already do. It’s not the end of the world, it’s just a different one, one that with adequate focus can be managed.
It might be complicated — nobody is saying it’s easy — but it’s doable.
The California law, which doesn’t take effect until 2023, a date preplanned to allow schools and the NCAA, as well, time to work through the changes and adjust to them, enables college athletes to hire an agent and to profit from endorsements from businesses, national and local, to use their name, likeness, image for monetary gain, the same way institutions in the NCAA can. It does not require schools to pay their athletes stacks of extra cash for their service, an important distinction.
It does not require California schools to dispense a greater share of the millions of dollars they gain from their sports teams to the athletes. Nationally, college sports generated $14 billion last year. Schools, athletic departments, administrators and coaches can keep most of all of that. The new law simply allows those athletes to profit off their own names.
That means if Bob’s Muffler & Tire Shack in Pomona wants to pay USC’s quarterback to endorse its products on the side, it can do so, he can accept it. If some national company wants an athlete as a frontman, it can hire him.
That’s hardly a world-ending scenario.
From the reaction out of the NCAA, and from the Pac-12, you would have thought otherwise. Whenever and wherever it can, the NCAA has been attempting to block any progression in this regard for decades, talking as though it were preserving the glorification of amateurism, when in reality it has been limiting the liability for which it is responsible. Plainly said, the powers that be in college sports love having an inexpensive labor force, while they and their association pocket billions.
Some coaches speak out against legislation like California’s, even as they enjoy huge contracts — Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, for instance, has a 10-year, $93 million deal. They can speak all they want about the benefits those athletes already get, such as scholarships and stipends, and the wonderful value of them, but their complaints/excuses/justifications, no matter how honorable they sound, will always ring hollow as the rich cash their own enormous checks.
Virtual free labor is good for those who profit off it, but keeping marketable college athletes from making money off their own images is nothing short of unjust and punitive.
It’s understandable, the concern that opportunities at some schools, with some athletes, might be greater than at others, and that this could open the door to greater inequality and abuses when it comes to certain payments to certain athletes. But that door is already open, those abuses, those inequalities, already exist.
The encouragement here is for leaders of the NCAA, conferences, schools to quit trying to stop what is inevitable and what is just by stalling and spreading panic and threatening lawsuits, and to start in earnest to conjure and implement ideas and resolutions that make laws like the one in California — and ones that are bound to be passed in other states — workable.
Fifty years ago, Americans put men on the freaking moon. It’s reasonable to expect that given the necessary open-mindedness and brain power, college leaders, the stewards of college sports, can find a way to make this work, without it devastating or destroying the college games so many profit from, and so many others love to watch and follow and enjoy.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.