Last week the California State Legislature unanimously passed the Fair Pay to Play Act, which will require large public and private universities in the state to let student athletes accept compensation for the use of their names, likenesses and images.
This is directly opposed to the NCAA’s regulations that say you cannot accept payment of any kind related to your college sports career, but the California bill forbids punishing any athlete who accepts compensation.
This bill faces numerous court hurdles (it is veto-proof having passed unanimously) but if this indeed becomes law, other states will have to consider the same measures and it may force a nationwide change in how student athletes are compenstated.
One might think this is a good thing, that the NCAA is just trying to make as much money as they can, and that being a student athlete is essentially indentured servitude. This may or may not be true, from various perspectives, but I see a different picture.
The NCAA is desperately trying to save college sports.
If they start paying student athletes or allow them to be paid through endorsements then I see the following.
1. The biggest name brand schools will have a huge new advantage in recruiting. Every athlete wants to be the next Michael Jordan and every one of them believes his compensation will be through the roof. The boosters from these biggest schools will make sure these are the highest paid players. In fact, anyone with broadcast rights has an incentive to make sure hiring funds are available, since recruiting these players is a top priority for viewership.
2. This will only benefit the top 1% (or less) of the athletes. Even if it becomes a booster club activity to launder money into the program to compensate the entire football and basketball teams, who is going to want to do this for the other scholarship sports? Volleyball, Tennis, Track and Field, Swimming, Gymnastics, etc., do not have the fame nor the booster support and are unlikely to get paid.
This only helps the prima donnas, 99% of student athletes will be out of luck. And most schools will not be able to afford to do anything more for them, there are just too many. Most student athletes will not become professional afterward, so if this interferes with their degree, they have sacrificed too much.
3. This will get out of control. In this litigious society, you can be sure that student athletes from other sports will cry discrimination when, for example, a popular men’s sport has more compensation than it’s women’s counterpart. When compensation packages for the best players become known, it will be a source of resentment among players, and with the fans. New forms of corruption and exploitation, the likes of which we have never seen, will arise from nothing (see the Author’s comment below). Remember these are 17 year old kids, who know nothing about the real world. Exploitation anyone? They are ripe for the pickings.
4. The best athletes will become concentrated to a few schools. This might be a good thing, because then perhaps other student athletes will form a different organization and concentrate on their school work.
5. This will destroy college sports. If the athletes are paid, they are no longer “student” athletes, the team is no longer really related to the school. Their fanbase is alumni. Alumni won’t care about a bunch of athletes that are not part of their University and won’t show up at the games.
No more 101,000 people filling the Alabama football stadium to see a game when the football players are just a bunch of hired guns, whom nobody ever sees around campus. Remember, the students of today are the alumni of tomorrow, they won’t support players who despise them. When the alumni lose interest, the booster clubs will stop paying the players and all will collapse. Motivations will no longer be aligned.
The major college sports that produce billions of dollars every year will evolve into farm teams like minor league baseball — money losers that have to be supported by the professional leagues.
And the multi-billion dollar machine that the NCAA is at the moment will be no more.
Perhaps the NCAA’s only option is to pull out of California and operate in the rest of the U.S. without them. The rest of the country would adjust, albeit without some of the best athletes in the system. But their revenue would be intact, because most universities have great programs and great fanbases without being NCAA champion every year. California may do well for a while, but eventually their college system would collapse, as predicted above. Or perhaps Califronia would change its mind.
Author’s note: I can’t help but think of Dwayne Johnson’s character in in the HBO series Ballers who at the close of the last season was in hot water for trying to make a lot of money for (and exploiting) a talented high school player, to the point of starting a new network and blackmailing a college into handing over broadcast rights to get this player.
In the California regime, this would be possible and indeed likely.
The corruption this will cause will be staggering. Players will be exploited and hurt, and the few who would have made it anyway, will make a bit extra in college.
Doesn’t anyone see this?
How can this be good for the student athletes who are NOT in the top 1%? Or even if they ARE in the top 1%?
P.S. My best expertise is in mass psychology, mass influence and alignment of motivations. I’ve done original research in the area and am pretty sure I know what I am talking about. These are not idle speculations – if the bill survives the court battles, these eventualities are a near certainty.