There’s a good reason athletic administrators are running around screaming that the sky is falling over a new California law that will allow college athletes in the state to be paid for the use of their names and images, beginning in 2023.
For them, the sky is falling. The Fair Pay to Play Act, signed into law Monday by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, is the beginning of the end for the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s archaic and patently unfair rules on “amateurism.”
For years, it has been against NCAA rules for a student on an athletic scholarship to be paid by anyone beyond the value of his or her scholarship: not by the school and not by anyone outside the school – whether it be a company that wants help pitching a product, someone who wants to pay for autographs or an appearance, or a company that aims to sell a jersey with a star player’s name on it.
You can pay the school, but not the athlete.
Even before Newsom signed the bill, NCAA President Mark Emmert was wailing about how disastrous this would be for college athletics and making veiled threats about being forced to declare “student-athletes” from California ineligible if they accepted any outside money.
Emmert, who was the University of Washington president from 2004-10, suggested the lawmakers should mind their own business and let the NCAA’s “rules-making process” work the problem out.
Leaving the issue in the hands of college presidents and administrators is a little bit like accepting the word of the fox who says he’ll protect the henhouse.
No one is buying what Emmert – or anyone else in the NCAA – is selling. The Pac-12 Conference put out a statement Monday claiming the law would have a “very significant negative” effect on college athletics because it would blur the line between college and professional sports.
Seriously? The NCAA sold its soul to TV long ago. It has a $6 billion contract with ESPN for the rights to its football playoff. CBS and Turner will soon be paying the NCAA more than $1 billion a year for the rights to its basketball tournament through 2032. One part of the basketball deal gives TV the right to decide when games will be played – which often means those “student-athletes” are asked to start games after 10 p.m. local time.
For the record: “Student-athlete” is a redundancy. By rule, one has to be a registered student to be a college athlete. It’s like calling someone a “person-man” or “person-woman.” The NCAA has employed the term for years to fool people into thinking big-time college athletes are studying advanced calculus in the locker room. I’ve traveled with college teams often. I can’t count on one hand the number of “student-athletes” I’ve seen working at being students.
Sure, some – mostly non-stars – graduate. But most of the ones who will go on to be professionals are out the door first chance they get: after one year in basketball; three in football. Those are the rules.
They are professionals in every way – except that they get paid nothing while everyone around them cashes in. Emmert is paid north of $2 million by the NCAA. Larry Scott, the commissioner of the Pac-12 whose statement (which Scott didn’t even have the guts to sign) on the new law also wailed about how this would negatively affect nonrevenue athletes, makes more than $5 million annually.
The notion that athletes in the two revenue sports – football and men’s basketball – making outside money might hurt nonrevenue athletes is an Emperor’s New Clothes fabrication. There’s nothing there. Under California’s approach the school will not pay the athletes anything beyond their scholarship. No swimmers, field hockey players or soccer players will be harmed – at all.
Here’s why the NCAA is in such a state of panic: Other states are already lining up to pass similar legislation. Emmert’s threat to declare athletes ineligible will be pretty empty if he has to suspend star players – the ones who do the most to bring in the TV dollars – across the country. Blessedly, this is the end of the line for the NCAA’s “show me all the money” approach.
One more note to anyone who might buy into the NCAA’s propaganda. In 1975, when an arbitrator overturned baseball’s reserve clause – which tied a player to a team for life – Commissioner Bowie Kuhn said this: “The reserve system … is necessary to protect not only the integrity of the game, but the economic viability of the game.” He went on to predict that free agency would mean the loss of teams and “not inconceivably the loss of a major league.”
All professional sports now have free agency. There are more teams than ever and more money than ever. College sports will continue to thrive. It will just do so in a manner that is finally fair and just to the athletes.
No wonder the old men in suits are terrified. Fair and just aren’t terms they’re familiar with.