Evanson column: Fair Pay to Play Act creates more problems than it solves
What's in a name, anyway? We're about to find out.
On Monday morning, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law the Fair Pay to Play Act, which says that beginning in 2023, colleges in the Golden State cannot and will not punish their athletes for collecting endorsement money. Newsom did so as part of a video production on LeBron James' multimedia platform, The Uninterrupted. In the video, Newsom said the following:
"I don't want to say this is checkmate, but this is a major problem for the NCAA. It's going to initiate dozens of other states to introduce similar legislation, and it's going to change college sports for the better. By having now the interest, finally, of the athletes on par with the interest of the institutions, now we're rebalancing that power arrangement."
Also in the video were James' longtime friend and manager, Maverick Carter, along with James — who celebrated the signing and later tweeted that the bill would "Change the lives of countless athletes who deserve it!"
Essentially, what the bill does is allow players to profit from their likeness. If they have an endorsement deal available to them, for one dollar, a hundred, or possibly a million, they now have the right, per the Fair Pay to Play Act (FPPA), to accept it. But while it sounds great, it's another means for corruption to take root.
If you think college recruiting is dirty now — which it is — this will open up an entirely different can of worms.
Let's say Athlete A is a standout football player highly sought after by College A, College B and College C through Triple Z. College A offers him a full ride scholarship; College B offers him the same, but throws in a warm and sunny climate; and College C says, "I'll see your full ride and ideal weather, and toss in a minimum of $100,000 annually from jersey sales," guaranteed as the result of our favorite booster offering to offset the difference in actual jersey sales versus the necessary number to ensure a six-figure return for Athlete A.
Take it a step further.
The University of Oregon, which is and has been the primary athletic benefactor of Nike owner Phil Knight, sets up a series of Nike endorsement deals with prospective athletes as a means of luring them to the school. What kid is going to choose Oregon State University (simply as an example) over the University of Oregon, if he has a contract from Nike in hand that's going to pay him thousands of dollars by simply attending and playing football, basketball or baseball in Eugene rather than Corvallis?
No one, because this is what it's now about: money.
Not an education. Not preparation for what will ultimately be the bulk of an athlete's life after sports. And certainly not lessons like teamwork, discipline and accountability. It's about what's in it for me and mine, and the only metric worth measuring is dolla-dolla-bills y'all!
We're years removed from big-time college athletes valuing an education. Society has told them it's worthless under the selfish narrative repeatedly preached regarding financial compensation.
It doesn't matter that they leave school debt-free. It doesn't matter that they leave with a degree. And it seemingly doesn't matter that on the way to the NFL, NBA or any other professional sports career, they got elite-level coaching, nutrition and strength training that in many cases made a career in professional sports possible — and they got it for free. None of that matters unless it can be used directly as currency for a flashy car, jewelry or a couple extra nights of Taco Bell. So it seems.
Newsom is right, this is a game-changer. Since word of this bill got out months ago, a handful of other states have communicated their interest in following suit, and one politician from North Carolina even proposed federal legislation amounting to much of the same. The NCAA isn't blinking, saying this development will only lead to California universities being banned from NCAA competitions, and in fact, those same California universities will be forced to make a decision regarding accepting the state's FPPA law in opposition of NCAA law — something they may not be willing to do, and something that would result in the courts ruling in favor of one or the other sides in the potential standoff.
I don't think it'll get to that point. I think the NCAA has seen this train coming down the tracks for more than a decade, beginning with UCLA basketball great Ed O'Bannon's 2009 lawsuit — which challenged the NCAA's use of the images of its former student athletes for commercial purposes — and strengthening in 2014 when O'Bannon won his case and the court found that the NCAA's rules and bylaws operated as an unreasonable restraint of trade, in violation of antitrust law. Due to such, they'll work with their member schools and come to some sort of middle ground that allows student-athletes further compensation, while simultaneously governing how they make their money — and how much they're actually allowed to make.
Sound like problem? It is, and it's only going to get bigger and more complicated.
I'm for the players getting more money, and in a perfect world profit from their likeness would be great. But college sports aren't perfect, the NCAA is far from it and the FPPA is only going to make things more complicated, more corrupt and more advantageous for the schools that already have inherent advantages.
A step in the right direction? Maybe. But "checkmate?" We're far from that, Mr. Newsom.
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