Level the Paying Field

If being a student-athlete is a part of my identity, then it’s only right to explore the controversies that come with that. The most heated conversation throughout the last few years within the realm of the NCAA has been the ordeal on paying players. Let me be clear in that paying players does not constitute salaries or contractual agreements. Paying players entails allowing student-athletes to monetarily benefit off of their name, image, or likeness through endorsement deals.

In April, this news broke regarding compensation for players, and the debate fired up once again:

So let’s get into what that means, especially from a student-athlete’s perspective.

As of now, student-athletes cannot use their image, name, or any reference to their sport/university to promote any business or product… including their own. In 2017, two senior swimmers at the University of Iowa started their own t-shirt company called ‘Trailheads Apparel,’ centered around camping and hiking. On the company website, Chris Dawson and Tom Rathbun identified themselves by name and referenced that they met each other from swimming together at Iowa. The NCAA cracked down on it and deemed them ineligible, despite the apparel having nothing to do with their image or sport. Until they graduated, the founders were listed on the website under the names ‘Rocky’ and ‘Slide’.

Here’s a link to their website: https://www.trailheadsapparel.com/

Under the same ruling, I can’t currently sell anything related to Super 8 without a long process of steps and clearance from NCAA compliance. I’m not going to forego my name or ignore being a student-athlete just to sell ads or apparel. That takes away from the authenticity of the website, and I just have to bite the bullet for now. But, in the same breath, another student in my business management class across the lecture hall can start up a company at any time, free to use their name or image.

To defend the average student, people like to say “free education for athletes is enough!” This only applies to football and basketball athletes, though. Football and basketball players are the only student-athletes that typically truly go to college for free on ‘full rides,’ because they have scholarships to cover their entire roster. Women’s basketball programs get 15 scholarships for an average of 15 players. Football programs get 85 scholarships for rosters of 85, sometimes up to 90 players.

Baseball programs get a maximum of 11.7 scholarships for a roster of 35 players. That 11.7 is typically divided into percentages so that all 35 players have some level of financial relief. Division 1 men’s lacrosse programs get a maximum of 12.6 scholarships for an average roster size of 44 players. Swimming and diving programs get 9.9 scholarships for 28 roster spots. Men’s soccer offers 9.9 scholarships for a 29 man roster. The list goes on and on. Also, notice the word “maximum,” because some programs operate with less. With that being said, if somebody says they’re on a full ride to a sport that isn’t basketball or football, they’re probably lying. Truth bomb, my bad.

So, to the “free education is enough” crowd, most of us athletes are not privy to an entirely free education. There’s no reason that we shouldn’t be entitled to the same entrepreneurial opportunities as our peers just because we play a sport. I can even speak on the behalf of baseball players in saying that we don’t even have time in the calendar year to get a job. We should be allowed any opportunity to get paid that we can find.

Furthermore, college success is the peak of so many athletic careers. With the way college towns love and support their universities and athletes, there’s a market for players to sell their ideas while at the pinnacle of their relevance. Especially considering the emergence of social media and the broad spectrum of people we can reach. Small businesses can sell cheap endorsements to local athletes to expand their business, it’s mutually beneficial to the community and the athlete.

But, there is a major concern in relation to the “Power 5” conferences (SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, and PAC-12) with football and basketball recruiting. Football and basketball run the show, if you couldn’t tell, because they’re the revenue generators. The concern is that local business owners with vested interest in the school have the ability to dish out thousands of dollars to recruits in these sports, which is true. For example, if Mr. Smith’s car dealership in Alabama gets into an endorsement bidding war with Mr. Jones’ bar and grille in Louisiana, that recruit becomes influenced by the money instead of the institution. That’s where the water gets mucky and the integrity of recruiting becomes compromised.

However, there will always be a way around NCAA rulings. I know that’s a lame rebuttal, but it’s true. All programs, coaches, and communities can find loopholes in current NCAA rules, and they’ve exposed them for years. Do your own research on recruitment scandals and illegal payments if you’re curious enough, because the rumors and investigations are out there. I’d comment, but I don’t know the validity and such.

The process of changing the mold is well underway, but not under the NCAA’s control. In September of 2019, California governor Gavin Newsom signed the Fair Pay to Play Act, allowing California student-athletes to be compensated for their “image and likeness through endorsement deals, sponsorships, autograph signings and other similar income opportunities.” It is set to go into effect January 1, 2023. It does not allow athletes to sign endorsements in conflict with the schools’ pre-existing agreements, for example a player can’t wear Adidas if the school is sponsored by Nike. New York, Illinois, Florida, Nevada, and a handful of other states have since proposed similar bills.

In addition, the NBA’s developmental league, also known as the G-League, has been issued the right to sign top high school recruits as a pathway to the NBA. A number of highly touted college basketball prospects have decided to forego college and sign to this developmental league for 6-figure contracts and the ability to be endorsed. High school players also have the option to play professionally overseas and make salaries and endorsements that way. This trend has entirely changed the scope of NCAA recruiting, which coincidentally lead to the April announcement in support of change.

Gov. Newsom’s law and the G-League contracts have put pressure on the NCAA. Now there is progress being made, which is encouraging, but the rate of change is behind the times. Any change is exciting, I guess. Student-athletes have held prevalence in culture for years, and have been more accessible than ever with social media in the mix. In my mind, there’s no reason these rules couldn’t go into effect as soon as June 1st, but the big blue circle is going to take their time.

It really just comes down to fairness and being granted equal opportunity to make money as our peers. For some players in revenue generating sports, it means a healthy chunk of money, and that scares the NCAA, but that is perfectly ok. That’s America, baby. Some people are blessed enough to profit off of themselves, and in today’s day and age, that should be encouraged. The NCAA should also put the proper resources in place for their athletes, such as agencies, advisors, and financial minds to help their students with this transition.

It’ll change the landscape of the NCAA by giving the players more rights and benefits, so I hope it’s a notion that you can get behind.

-B.F.

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