Normally over the summer, it’s a slow time in sports media. Sure, you may have your college football preview pieces, a potentially trash-talking media day coach, or a commitment switch from one school to another. On the whole, though, it’s a vast wasteland of nothing. Except for this week. When the California legislature took the first steps to allow for student athletes to be compensated for their image, name, and likeness. In all practicality, it was a door opening that no one really knows what comes next. And I can’t lie to you, I like it.
I have to believe that the Venn diagram that crosses governmental policy wonks and college sports fans is a small one to begin with. But even if the extent of your governmental understanding was fueled by an animated bill on the steps of the capital building, this is a topic for you since you like sports. Honestly, and at the risk of hyperbole, it’s maybe the most important piece of legislation from either the state side or the NCAA side in recent memory.
At its core, it allows players the opportunity to receive compensation for using their likeness, image, or name. Things like autograph tours, endorsements, or anything like that is fair game and paid for by people other than the school. It’s market-driven capitalism at its most basic form, but there’s more to it than that. It allows student athletes to capitalize off the one thing that they control: themselves. Sit on your high horse and tell me they shouldn’t after countless entities including their schools have been doing so for years.
A poorly-constructed logical high horse you say? Enter the NCAA, who swiftly and predictably issued an edict that this legislation was tantamount to end times, and bemoaned the dire and significant consequences of this legislative action. They even went so far as to say that should California enact this bill that any school who has an athlete who enjoys its perks would be outright banned from competing in any NCAA tournament. In some respects, I give the NCAA credit. However misguided and inconsistent their rationalizations are, they stick to them.
So it would seem we have a little bit of a standoff, now don’t we? Let’s say the legislation passes. What then? Does the NCAA deny the likes of the USC Trojans or California Golden Bears the right to play in the postseason? Would March Madness be the same without the UCLA Bruins? How about all the titles the Stanford Cardinal annually wins? That seems suboptimal. More over, if you’re a student athlete would you even care? If you can knock out a decent living with your likeness wouldn’t they go there anyway? I would.
Expand it out. What happens then? Other states are sure to follow suit when the top athletes across the country go to California to earn a living wage while playing sports. What if college crazy states like North Carolina and Ketucky follow suit. How’s that field of 68 going to go without the Duke Blue Devils, North Carolina Tar Heels, or Kentucky Wildcats? Draw your line in the sand all you want to, NCAA, but understand the leverage, or lack there of, that you posses.
Whether this California bill passes or not isn’t the issue. Some state somewhere is eventually going to pass this and they are going to pass it sooner rather than later. I wonder if EA Sports (the makers of the wildly popular NCAA Football video game series) has a vested interest in how this goes down? Mix together common sense and profitability and it’s shocking what we can get done.
To be clear, there are more than a few hurdles to clear before this comes to reality. It still has to pass the higher education subcommittee, pass the full general assembly, and then be signed by the governor. But it is closer today than it has ever been before. And when (or if if you’re a pessimist) it passes, the NCAA is going to have a decision to make. Do they remove California schools from championship play or do they change their rules?
At the most basic of basic things is what’s fair and right. Is it fair that a multi-billion dollar industry profits off student athletes and their likeness, image, and name with zero control whatsoever? Is it right that it’s justified further by the common refrain of “scholarship!” and “free education!”? I’ll answer for you... of course not. So look on the bright side, NCAA, at least now when you change your silly archaic policy that screws student athletes on a regular basis, you can blame it on the California legislature. They can be your scapegoat since just doing the right thing for the right thing’s sake is clearly too much to ask.
Alan Rucker is the managing editor of HustleBelt.com, the home of MACtion at SBNation and a career higher education professional. He has spent a decade-plus covering midweek games and Cinderella stories. Reach Alan on Twitter @AlanRucker.