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NCAA Already Imbalanced, Paying Student Athletes Won’t Change That

View of the field before the game between the Fresno State Bulldogs and the USC Trojans at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on August 31, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Fair Pay to Play Act, which would allow NCAA student-athletes to make money off their name, image, and likeness, is currently making its way through the legislative process in California.

The bill has moved through with few objections and currently sits on the desk of California Governor Gavin Newsom who has 30 days to decide whether this should go into law effective January 1, 2023.

Naturally, the NCAA does not like the bill. The organization has been trying to thwart student-athletes from making money off of their likeness for the money-making sports like football and basketball, even though those sports bring in millions upon millions to the universities.

The NCAA sent a letter voicing its concerns to Newsom encouraging him to veto the bill, below is a portion of that letter.

California Senate Bill 206 would upend that balance. If the bill becomes law and California’s 58 NCAA schools are compelled to allow an unrestricted name, image and likeness scheme, it would erase the critical distinction between college and professional athletics and, because it gives those schools an unfair recruiting advantage, would result in them eventually being unable to compete in NCAA competitions. These outcomes are untenable and would negatively impact more than 24,000 California student-athletes across three divisions.

The NCAA continues to focus on the best interests of all student-athletes nationwide. NCAA member schools already are working on changing rules for all student-athletes to appropriately use their name, image and likeness in accordance with our values — but not pay them to play. The NCAA has consistently stood by its belief that student-athletes are students first, and they should not be employees of the university.

We urge the state of California to reconsider this harmful and, we believe, unconstitutional bill and hope the state will be a constructive partner in our efforts to develop a fair name, image and likeness approach for all 50 states.

Basically, the NCAA is attempting a staring contest with the state of California, according to Scott Mitchell and Alex Kirry of KSL’s UnRivaled.

The 2023 timeline gives the NCAA plenty of time to adjust its rules book, but the governing body thinks to allow players to earn money themselves would be the downfall of the NCAA.

Can California Defeat The NCAA?

There are 25 NCAA Division I schools in California with seven FBS programs from the Pac-12 and Mountain West.

There are plenty of non-revenue sports that are important in the state with national champion-caliber teams that would be impacted severely if the NCAA were to kick out the teams for following through with the bill.

Kirry wondered if California is a big enough player to challenge and defeat the NCAA?

“The state of California passing this is nice, cute and it feels like it is much to do about nothing. Nothing is going to come of this,” Kirry predicted.

The other half of KSL’s Unrivaled, Scott Mitchell, thinks Kirry is underestimating the size of California with the schools it has at the NCAA level.

There are blue-blood football and basketball programs at USC and UCLA – women’s volleyball, swimming, baseball, water polo, and other sports win national championships from that state. It would be a bold move for the NCAA to remove those programs.

“I think it will start a conversation because what will ultimately happen because what will happen is that they will say, ‘we have created a law to allow players and their likeness to make money off of who they are,'” Mitchell said.

Ultimately, there will be a standoff between the two and possibly a long and drawn-out legal battle which probably will lead to a change in this process.

“It will go into court and fight over it and make a decision. I don’t see how a person’s ability to make a living or an income, whether they are in college or not, college students have jobs,” Mitchell said. “There are paid internships and people put themselves through college. I believe that this will be the beginning of what’s really going happen.”

Kirry was skeptical and said there needs to be something more to push the NCAA to make a change.

Imbalance Already Exists

There are workarounds for college athletes to make money while playing a sport and ways for some to get paid playing a sport like minor league baseball. Those athletes can make money and then come back and still play college football while being considered an amateur in the eyes of the NCAA, according to the duo.

“You can be someone who goes and plays baseball professionally, sign a big contract and then come back and play football and still be an amateur. This makes no sense to me,” Mitchell said.

The NCAA claiming this move would create a competitive imbalance is beyond laughable, according to Mitchell. Schools from the Power 5 level already have an advantage with shoe contracts, playing in huge arenas, glamourous locker rooms and paying college coaches more than pro coaches.

There is already a huge imbalance within the NCAA. Look at the FBS level, there is a huge gap with programs that bring in anywhere from $30-$50 million annually from media rights deals for the Power Five schools and then the Group of Five schools that are lucky to make a few million dollars per year.

Allowing players to make money off of their likeness would not sway a top recruit to choose to play at Florida International over Florida State, Mitchell said. Those bigger programs have and will always have a built-in advantage.

Saying that allowing players to earn money off of their name, image, and likeness would create an unfair imbalance is simply not true because there is already a massive imbalance within the NCAA right now, pointed out UnRivaled.

“It would be amateurism If those universities didn’t benefit from the college game. Everybody else around the [student-athletes] are getting paid expect the people who, ironically, are doing all the work.”

There will be a showdown in the near future since this bill will be almost certainly signed by Newsom. Even if it were not signed, the bill sailed through the state Assembly, 72-0, and 31-5 in the Senate. That would be more than enough to override a veto by the governor.

The NCAA will file a lawsuit once this passes and that will start a long drawn out process on how to proceed, and it may come down to who will blink first, according to Mitchell and Kirry.

Tune into KSL’s Unrivaled every Monday through Friday, 7-9 p.m., or download the KSL NewsRadio app to subscribe to the podcast. 

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