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Midweek Musing: Time to Get Paid

Pay for play isn’t coming (yet), but athletes profiting on their success is well on its way.

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It’s actually happening.

Months after California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill titled the “Fair Pay to Play Act”, the NCAA has followed suit, looking to square up any advantages that the Sunshine State might have rendered by allowing student-athletes to profit off of their name and likeness.

It’s really a win-win for the NCAA and the athletes; the former can look they are doing the right thing as they play a very overt game of CYA, ensuring that they won’t upset the non-California powers that be (Alabama, Notre Dame, Texas — I’m looking at you), while the latter can, you know, get paid for the work they do.

Seems fair enough.

Mostly, though, this is the evil empire known as the NCAA’s way of gaining some semblance of control over an issue that has been on the forefront of the minds of coaches, administrators, athletes, and fans for the better part of the last decade. And with social media giving a voice to everyone with an account, it was time for the organization to make a move before the athletes they shepherd made one without them.

The Board of Governors vote was unanimous as they set in guidelines that, in their words, do the following:

Assure student-athletes are treated similarly to non-athlete students unless a compelling reason exists to differentiate.

Maintain the priorities of education and the collegiate experience to provide opportunities for student-athlete success.

Ensure rules are transparent, focused and enforceable and facilitate fair and balanced competition.

Make clear the distinction between collegiate and professional opportunities.

Make clear that compensation for athletics performance or participation is impermissible.

Reaffirm that student-athletes are students first and not employees of the university.

Enhance principles of diversity, inclusion and gender equity.

Protect the recruiting environment and prohibit inducements to select, remain at, or transfer to a specific institution.

(sounds really great in theory, doesn’t it?)

Ultimately, what this means is that student-athletes will have the opportunity to pick up sponsorships and appearance fees, while also making money from jerseys and gear with their name and number on it. And it won’t cost the university anything, directly. Also, it solves a common issue every four years, when Olympic Athletes turn their moment in the sun — or snow — in six figure endorsement opportunities, and then have to weigh the likely one-time pay day over the chance to compete in college.

Now, the answer is, “why not both?”.

For fans, this shouldn’t change much. Sure, you’re going to have the get off my lawn guy screaming “BUT WHAT OF AMATEURISM” and the booster screaming “AND WHAT OF MY INFLUENCE”, but, ultimately, it allows those making the money for the folks at the top to keep a cut for themselves.

It squares.

Frankly, money has been in and around the college game and college recruiting since the dawn of the television era — it’s far too easy to use the green goddess to influence players to come to your school. While we will still see plenty of bag men around college football, allowing players across every sport to market themselves should at least lessen (lol) the crimes of the many-bagged booster across collegiate athletics.

Oh, and if that isn’t enough for you — this could also signal the return of the NCAA Football video game, which could elect to simply offer student-athletes a fee for the right to use their names in the game, though securing the propriety rights of the universities will be a separate battle.

Though the first step is encouraging, it’s far from fixing the problem. Former Duke Basketball player and current ESPN analyst Jay Bilas was all over the airways Tuesday and Wednesday calling out the proposal for being little more than a delay tactic for the NCAA — something they introduced to eliminate individual states from making their own regulations. It’s a step, but could end up being a step backwards.

TCU Athletic Director Jeremiah Donati, a vocal opponent of the California Fair Pay to Play Act, weighed in as well, Tuesday, telling Drew Davison of the Star-Telegram “Today’s announcement from the NCAA Board of Governors detailing the progress with regards to student-athletes being able to profit from their name, image and likeness while affirming the collegiate model is encouraging. However, a lot of work still remains to resolve the plethora of issues necessary to ensure a fair and uniform system can be created and implemented for our student-athletes and the member institutions.”

There is a lot that can and will change between now and any of this coming to fruition — the NCAA has given its three divisions until 2021 to lay the groundwork for regulations, while several states have bills in progress that could be enacted as soon as next summer.

But... can we get NCAA next fall, still? Maybe?