The state of California and the National Collegiate Athletic Association are on a collision course that could change forever the status of amateur sports at the college level.
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law new rules that allow California college athletes to hire agents, make endorsement deals and profit off their names and likenesses. While not yet establishing pay for playing certain sports, athletes, including those at major universities in the state, will be able to legally derive income from third parties based on deals they can make off the field.
“Every single student in the university can market their name, image and likeness; they can go and get a YouTube, and they can monetize that,” Newsom told The New York Times. “The only group that can’t are athletes. Why is that?”
It’s a legitimate question, one to which answers will develop over time; the law isn’t in effect until 2023.
Expect a bevy of lawsuits from the NCAA, the governing body of college amateur sports. Among its worries is that other states will follow California’s lead, creating a quilt of different laws, perhaps even some that allow college athletes to collect salaries, thereby creating great discrepancies in competition and an impossible landscape to monitor.
And that’s only the first wave of the money quagmire. Here are some other concerns:
More corruption in college athletics with agents cozying up to big-time college coaches on behalf of their clients and having an outsized influence on selection day; currently agents are banned from college athletics.
These same agents prowling high school fields looking to sign athletes ahead of college admission and steering them to certain schools.
Even small colleges and universities feeling the influence of outside money on their programs. Can you imagine, for instance, a local business/booster feeling put out if their spokesperson/athlete suddenly gets benched? Think a phone call won’t be made to the college president or coach leveraging playing time against a donation?
But this is not to say the NCAA hasn’t asked for this. For years, the alleged nonprofit has been guilty of the ultimate hypocrisy, pulling in billions of dollars, particularly from big-time football and basketball, while enforcing absurdly penal regulations on athletes — the ones responsible for all the revenue. All of this, of course, while national brands, such as Nike and Adidas, make multimillion-dollar sponsorship deals with colleges and universities — and coaches — to purchase their equipment and uniforms and make the athletes wear their logos.
Backed by court decisions, refusing to concede to athletes and quick to banish schools from bowl games and cut scholarships for various infractions, the association is now confronting a game-changer. One of its first challenges will be how to penalize California universities — some, like UCLA and USC, among the most recognizable in the country — over the potential of those schools offering an unlevel playing field for top athletes. It only makes sense to envision a top recruit looking at, for instance, Alabama or USC for football, choosing USC — where a full scholarship and sponsorship deals can be had. How long before the football-crazed Alabama Legislature looks at similar laws to keep things even?
Of course, if the NCAA prevails in court on grounds that the new law is unconstitutional due to interstate commerce violations, it puts California colleges in a bind. The universities would presumably be subject to huge fines, and athletes might shun the state for fear the schools would be playoff-ineligible.
But, in the end, the law and its potential for disruption may be the necessary catalyst to sort out and clean up a corrupt system that is out of control.
Whether we are comfortable with it or not, we are moving toward a system that compensates its college athletes. Maybe California’s new law will finally force the NCAA and the colleges it monitors to bring into balance an exploitative system, one in which the big business of college sports, comprising universities, sponsors, boosters and coaches, are the current beneficiaries and the athletes are sidelined.