The college football season has just started, and college basketball season is just around the corner. College sports always brings new faces, new rivalries, new stars and of course, new calls to take a closer look at the rules around amateurism and student athletes. This mainly refers to their pay, or lack thereof.
California wants to change that.
California’s State Assembly passed a bill that would allow college athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness. This means that players could make money from things like autographs, or endorsements. This is in direct contrast to the rules set up by the dominant college athletic governing body, the NCAA.
This is a huge development for a number of reasons.
First and foremost, California is a very large state. So large that it has the potential to force the NCAA’s hand. The NCAA has already kicked around the idea of allowing players to profit from their image and likeness. But a state like California could speed that process along. The state has 20 Division I schools and many of them are already desirable destinations for high profile athletes. Other states are not going to stand for California having a huge competitive advantage in recruiting. So, this could lead to other states passing copy-cat bills. The NCAA could play hardball and ban the schools from those states from competition but that could unintentionally lead to the demise of the NCAA altogether depending on how many states would adopt such a law.
Second, it’s doable. The problems with the other proposals for paying college athletes is that most of the sports don’t make money. People typically think about Anthony Davis’s and Johnny Manziel’s when they picture unpaid college athletes. Popular football and basketball players on teams that make millions of dollars. But most NCAA athletes are decidedly not superstars and play on average teams in sports that make no money or even lose money.
The honest truth that is that paying players “market value” for their skills would mean not paying most of them anything at all. Minimum salary for WNBA players is around $50,000. Those are the best women’s players in the world and that wouldn’t cover tuition, room and board at most many schools. So, the average NCAA athlete isn’t technically even worth their scholarship on the open market. But making money off of your image and likeness is basically a perfect function of the free market. The schools continue to give kids scholarships and ones that are significantly more popular and successful are free to seek endorsements, sponsorships and autograph sessions to capitalize on what they bring.
In the modern age of the super recruit, all semblance of competitive balance has flown out the window. In the past it has always been argued that paying players would give certain schools unfair advantages. But schools that have money and boosters find ways to funnel money to athletes anyway, either directly under the table or indirectly via ridiculous facilities and perks. Blue Blood programs are still going to get the best players most of the time. An arbitrary rule about pay would not increase their success rate and that is now plain to see because of how visible high school athletes are on social media and recruiting services.
The bill has its detractors. Recently former college football superstar Tim Tebow came out publicly against the bill. Claiming he never played for the money. Others believe that allowing athletes to profit in this way is a slippery slope to more problematic practices.
Whatever the opinions, if this bill is to stand it will change the landscape of college sports forever.