Just before taking a swipe at California at large, Washington State football coach Mike Leach answered a question about one of the Golden State’s new bills: California’s Fair Pay for Play Act, which awaits Governor Gavin Newsom’s signature after passing through the legislature unanimously and essentially would let college athletes profit off endorsements along with their image and/or likeness.
Rarely one to filter his thoughts, Leach — who added that California probably should worry about cleaning up its streets before diving into college football — let his skepticism be known.
“If you create a recruiting advantage beyond what already exists, I think it’s going to be very difficult,” Leach said. “I think there will be huge imbalances and it will destroy college football, and I think you gotta be very careful.”
You might say Leach’s near $4 million annual salary makes it easy to say such things while players are living off stipends — and that’s understandable. But there are three words of his I’d seize upon when discussing this topic: “Be very careful.”
Much as we might guess, we don’t know what kind of impact this piece of legislation would have on college sports. We know that it wouldn’t go into effect until 2023, and that it would prevent the NCAA from punishing players who violated its rules regarding endorsements and likeness profiting, but beyond that it’s a question mark.
Leach, I assume, worries that a chance to earn cold, hard cash up front would woo talented players to California schools — particularly when deep-pocket boosters could exploit the rule. Wanna come to USC? Here are three guys that would pay $50,000 each for an autograph. UCLA? Here’s an alumnus who wants to give you $300,000 to endorse his company. My guess is that the law would try its best to mitigate corruption, but when you create an opportunity the sharks usually find a way.
What this likely would do, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out, is force other states to pass legislation to keep up or gain a competitive advantage. Texas Bill 2023a would require student-athletes to maintain a 0.0 GPA.
Yes, such a bill would violate NCAA rules, but if it also would preclude the NCAA from punishing players, what’s to stop it?
As the WSJ editorial also noted, pay for play has appeal on both ends of the political spectrum. The left sees it as a way to stop the NCAA and universities from raking in billions of dollars off the backs of unpaid labor, and the right sees it as free-market capitalism epitomized.
Still, this is a world of trade-offs, and most of the time when a significant change is made, you risk damaging something you hoped to improve.
Every year, thousands of students accept full scholarships to play NCAA football and men’s basketball, the “revenue” sports that most likely would produce athletes whose endorsement, image or likeness would command big dough. And the money generated from those sports help field other NCAA sports, also providing financial aid to more student-athletes.
Would allowing athletes to profit in the way the California bill proposes affect any of this? Who knows? But it’s not farfetched to think it could.
There is no doubt that college sports have a dark history of corruption, but I believe part of the appeal for fans is watching amateurs play. Introduce new legislation that tampers with that — knowing it also could accentuate competitive imbalance — and you risk losing fans, which would impact budgets, which would impact scholarships.
Maybe this sounds a bit Pollyanna, but a lot of student-athletes might not be able to attend or afford their universities without sports. And a good chunk of them would have been saddled with student-loan debt for much of their lives.
The Tim Tebows, Vince Youngs and Johnny Manziels of the world would have made a killing if they had a Fair Pay for Play-type act — and maybe some star running backs and receivers, too. But the rank-and-file guys? Barring egregious tactics from boosters, their lives wouldn’t have changed much.
On Tuesday, I talked to Washington defensive lineman Levi Onwuzurike and safety Myles Bryant about the issue. Onwuzurike seemed in favor of such a bill, noting how he and his teammates are generating revenue, that people out of college wouldn’t have a cap on what they could earn, and that there are some student-athletes in the country struggling with rent and other necessities.
Bryant was more ambivalent, noting that “playing college football is an experience that can’t be quantified” while showing gratitude for the friends he has been able to meet and trips he has been able to take.
The way I see it, the world is a bunch of leaks in the roof with only so many fingers to plug them. You try to solve one problem, you often open yourself up to another.
There are some loud voices harping on the rampant exploitation seen in college sports, but for the most part, it provides thousands of young adults with opportunities to set themselves up for life.
Take any issue — whether it be minimum wage, prison reform, drug legalization or anything else you can think of — and a change is always going to come with a cost. Can that cost be worth it? Of course.
But as Leach says, be very careful.