NCAA Must Adapt Or Die On Fair Pay-For-Play Bill

Sep 30, 2019, 11:20 AM | Updated: 11:24 am

A detail of giant NCAA logo is seen outside of the stadium on the practice day prior to the NCAA Me...

A detail of giant NCAA logo is seen outside of the stadium on the practice day prior to the NCAA Men's Final Four at the Georgia Dome on April 5, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – It is no longer a question of if, but when. With California State Bill 206 now signed into law, it is legal for NCAA players to make money off of their name and likeness while still in school. They can also hire agents.

The NCAA is panicking, threatening legal action, and crying foul by going so far as to say SB 206 is unconstitutional. The NCAA’s response is, of course, a telltale sign of the awareness that they are now fighting an unstoppable force.

Conversations about pay for college athletes began a long time ago, but picked up momentum and became more earnest in the last decade with the Ed O’Bannon case, the NBA one-and-done rule, and other such milestones that added to the downhill-rolling ball of problems for the NCAA.


There Is No Fair Playing Field

Now, we find ourselves on the precipice of a landmark change in policy that has many questioning whether or not college football as we know it will survive – in my opinion, it won’t.

I’ve seen concerns expressed over the ability to pay players creating an unfair system that rewards the “haves” and punishes the “have nots”, thereby eliminating the fair playing field of the current system.

Except… there is no fair playing field in the current system.

The line has already been drawn between the rich and the poor, and there is no going back.

Sure, Alabama and Utah State are technically governed by the same rules and have to operate in the same system. They can play one another any year they choose to schedule that game, and the Aggies will certainly do their darnedest; but the disparity between the two will be clear on the field, just as it is clear when you look at the coaching salaries, facilities costs, recruiting budgets, and every other metric associated with investment in football success.

In a pay-for-play system – even one based on name and likeness endorsement deals and sponsorship – the traditional powers and big-time programs will continue to outpace their competitors.

Endorsements for Bama players, Utah players, and Weber State players will be scaled according to the same whims that drive budgets and coaching salaries in the current “amateur” system.

Player/Coach Dynamic

I’ve also seen folks expressing worry that sacrificing amateurism will somehow upset the dynamic and balance between players and coaches. College students who are being paid will somehow have a different attitude about their role on a football team than they do now.

First of all, the dynamic between players and coaches changes every year, and it will continue to change as society, social media, and generation gaps evolve. Player/Coach relations shift continuously throughout a player’s individual career anyway. Allowing college athletes to capitalize on their fleeting star power will not suddenly upset the influence that their millionaire-grown-man-adult-professional coaches have over them.

Players control things in professional sports because they are paid MORE than their coaches and general managers. Players in college do not have the longevity at any university to build up enough brand equity to justify spending quite that much on their endorsements or sponsorships.

Those concerned about the current climate of player movement and excessive transfers in college athletics should actually support a compensation model based on name-and-likeness rights. If Chuck’s Auto Glass in Corvallis is paying you $10k per semester to be in their commercials, you probably aren’t going to jump to the transfer portal at the first sign of trouble.

Recruiting Landscape

Of course, there is also the concern that a legal compensation model for college athletes will drastically alter the recruiting landscape. If this is your worry, you are failing to acknowledge that a compensation model already exists on the recruiting trail.

Right now, it is handled by shady agents and bag men and all sorts of go-betweens. Pay-for-play is not exclusively for the Cam Newtons and Shaqs of the world either. It happens in some form or another everywhere. It might be a Michigan football player getting a duffel bag full of bundled cash or a BYU player getting a Jetta to drive around. Sometimes a family member gets a job they probably aren’t qualified for.

In any case, the negotiations are already going on, and your school is either losing out on a player or two because somebody offered better, or they are getting the big-time recruit because they sweetened the deal just enough.

SB 206 aims to create a legal, above-board system in California for athletes to capitalize on their celebrity, and yes, even on their potential as top recruits.

Would we rather let things continue as they are? Would we rather our government waste taxpayer money on FBI investigations into the illicit roles of shoe companies, assistant coaches, AAU middle-men, and other such characters?

Put Athletes First

Many of the knee-jerk reactions I have seen assume that this will affect all NCAA athletes. That’s simply not true. The athletes who will receive endorsement deals and corporate sponsorships will do so because they have market value. For the vast majority of the college sports population; a full-ride scholarship is plenty of compensation. In most cases, the athlete is actually getting the better end of the deal.

In reality, college football fans tune in and show up at stadiums to watch a handful of elite starters. They are what drives the economic engine of college football. Of course, the whole team is necessary, but the television contract isn’t in place because of a decent left guard.

If SB 206 were written into law in the state of Utah, and BYU, USU, and U of U players were allowed to receive endorsement compensation for the 2019 season, how many actually would get paid? A dozen? Twice that?

Maybe most important in all of this discussion is to point out that if you are not rooting for these young athletes to maximize their experiences and milk every last class credit, protein shake, free flight, and dollar allowed them, you should not call yourself a fan.

NCAA: Adapt Or Die

The NCAA will do everything in its power to stop SB 206 and the fair pay-for-play law from becoming common practice, despite the fact that votes in favor of the bill have been unanimous.

Somehow, the no-brainer idea that athletes should be allowed to benefit financially from their own celebrity crosses party lines. Even bills aimed at the lofty goal of saving the very planet we live on do not receive that level of support. Bills aimed at reducing gun violence are hotly debated in Assemblies and Senates, but everybody can agree that college football and basketball players deserve a chance at sharing a piece of the multi-billion-dollar pie.

Athletes want this, politicians want this, but the NCAA does not. Strangely, some fans also seem to side with the NCAA and the status quo. The same NCAA that has repeatedly displayed its own ineptitude and unfairness in turning a blind eye to some violations while coming down with an iron fist on others (remember that aforementioned BYU player with the Jetta?). The same NCAA that has disallowed transfer waivers for students moving closer to home for dying parents, but gives the all-clear to kids who transferred because coaches said something offensive to them.


The NCAA has proven time and again to be a clunky, greedy, farcical governing body. California is leading the charge in stripping away the NCAA’s power. I hope Utah jumps on the bandwagon.

It’s time for every state in the union to send a message to the NCAA.

Adapt or die.

A salary-based pay-for-play model would be unsustainable in college athletics. Most athletic departments simply couldn’t afford it. State Bill 206 is actually a lifeline extended to the NCAA, a loophole agreement that would allow the NCAA and it’s member institutions to pass the buck on compensating the individuals responsible for their massive television and merchandising revenues.

If the NCAA can’t even adjust to a new model that lets them keep their cash and their power, why should they be allowed to take part at all?

Fan loyalty is attached to programs and conferences, not their incompetent overlords.

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NCAA Must Adapt Or Die On Fair Pay-For-Play Bill