A new California law has put the National Collegiate Athletic Association on defense.
The college sports landscape, awash in television money, continues to change, the latest example being a new California law that permits athletes to hire agents and make endorsement deals.
The California legislation is sure to spread elsewhere as legislators in the other 49 states follow the Golden State’s lead. That includes Illinois, where a member of the Illinois House of Representatives has introduced similar legislation.
Given the conflicting perspectives of the state of California and the NCAA, the stage is set for legal conflict. But it won’t happen anytime soon because the California law is not scheduled to take effect until 2023, an interim period that will give NCAA officials the time to — if they choose — work out a compromise satisfactory to all the interested parties.
That — at least — is the attitude of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who told reporters that the NCAA is “not going to do the right thing on their own.”
Newsom portrayed the legislation as a measure putting athletes on the same footing as other college students.
“Every single student in the university can market their name, image and likeness; they can go and get a YouTube channel, and they can monetize that. The only group that can’t are athletes. Why is that?” he asked.
Newsom is correct that “every single student” has the legal freedom to market themselves in ways that generate a profit. But how realistic a possibility is that option for “every single student”?
At the same time, the new law will afford that opportunity to every single athlete. But — let’s face it — this legislation will affect only the cream of the crop, most probably in the major-income sports like basketball and football.
That reality, however, does not mean that college athletes ought not to be compensated for the important roles they play in the college sports money machine. Without them, there is no revenue, while coaches and administrators are earning huge salaries, and high-profile university sports factories boom as a consequence of the favorable publicity they receive.
The NCAA reacted with its usual belligerence to the proposals. It lobbied against the measure, threatened litigation by arguing the measure is “unconstitutional” and contended that California schools could be barred from post-season bowl games and tournaments if their athletes receive improper compensation.
At the same time, however, the NCAA has shown some signs of recognizing that it’s operating in a new and much different atmosphere than in the days of yore. It has acknowledged that “changes are needed” but contended it’s best to institute them on a nationwide basis for all 1,200 of its member schools.
If the NCAA is sincere, there’s no reason why it and states like California and those who follow can’t find common ground.
Some individuals and organizations may be reluctant to realize it. But prominent athletes enjoy a value that’s denied to them in the open market. That’s why the underground market continues to flourish.
The sooner everyone recognizes that reality, the sooner the mythology of pure amateurism surrounding major college sports can be put aside in this dollar-driven enterprise.