In response to the Fair Pay to Play Act making its way through proper California legal and government channels, which would allow student-athletes to profit off their likeness, the NCAA decided to take a scorned lover’s approach before the legislature is implemented into action on Jan. 1, 2023.
The California State Assembly unanimously passed a bill last week, to a vote of 66-0, allowing student-athletes to more easily make money off their own name and likeness.
For the sake of clarity: Due to the bill being amended after it had passed the State Senate, it had to return to that chamber for a concurrence vote. Nevertheless, the Senate approved its version of the bill by a 31-5 margin. Notably, the bill’s primary intent remains unchanged.
In a six-paragraph letter released to the general public but addressed to California Governor Gavin Newsom, the NCAA pleaded with him to not sign any bill that would allow players to make financial gains off their likeness while in college.
“The 1,100 schools that make up the NCAA have always, in everything we do, supported a level playing field for all student-athletes,” the statement reads. “This core belief extends to each member college and university in every state across the nation.”
However, it is the preface to the “Dear Mr. Governor” letter drawing the most attention.
“The NCAA Board of Governors sent a letter Wednesday to California Gov. Gavin Newsom, making clear its belief that this bill would wipe out the distinction between college and professional athletics and eliminate the element of fairness that supports all of college sports.”
While the governing body of college sports often points to variations of an “element of fairness” when defending amateurish ideals, it ignores how poorly the NCAA, itself, has done overseeing a legitimate fair and balanced playing field.
There’s no cap on how much money programs can spend on sports programs. Therefore, by not doing so, with so many universities operating under ranging resources, big time college sports is essentially a system of haves and have-nots.
For every university willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on their sports programs, because they can afford to do so, there are even more who can’t even reach the seven-figure mark.
Back in 2016, an ESPN analysis found that Power 5 schools made $6 billion in 2014-15, while the Group of 5 conferences accounted for another $2 billion. That $4 billion dip appears extreme until you compare it to the next line in the sand.
The total combined revenues for the Mid-Eastern and Southwestern Athletic Conferences over that same period of time, according to a USA Today database, were roughly $289 million.
It’s partially why the recent suggestion of asking elite black athletes to only play for HBCUs, while idealistic and positive in overall sentiment, is shortsighted. Like nearly everything, fixes to complex issues rarely come with sweeping, broad one-stroke answers.
The rest of the NCAA’s statement focuses on the California Senate Bill 206 blurring the lines between professionalism and amateurism, while continuing to say how it would defame and lambaste any quality balance for universities throughout the country, as “…nearly half a million student-athletes in all 50 states compete under the same rules. This bill would remove that essential element of fairness and equal treatment that forms the bedrock of college sports.”
The statement is less a legal rebuttal as it is a belief system manifesto disguising an archaic model as some noteworthy historical foundation to athletics needing protection – as if exploiting unpaid labor deserves the same sanctuary as historically protected landmarks.
However, that doesn’t mean legal action isn’t in the back of the NCAA’s mind.
“We’ve explored how it might impact the association and what it might do. We believe it would inappropriately affect interstate commerce,” Donald Remy, the NCAA’s chief operating officer and chief legal officer, told The Associated Press.
“It is not intended to be a threat at all. It’s a reflection about the way California is going about this. “I’m not saying there will never be a day we would consider that (legal action), but it is not meant to be a threat,” Remy said.
The reason for the open letter is clear, since the he California Governor has a chance to veto it.
Giving the NCAA the benefit of the doubt, allowing for the idea that this is about the protection of amateurism and not the actual conservation of already powerful people’s pocketbooks, California could shift the governing body’s policy in a pioneering way moving forward.
For all the strong talk the NCAA will do in regard to this bill, as well as sending lobbyist to the state to advocate against student-athletes receiving money, California has 24,000 athletes in the nation’s most populous state, including brand programs like the UCLA Bruins and USC Trojans.
If the bill passes, presuming schools like UCLA and USC abide by it, we might find out just how badly blue-blood programs need the NCAA. Or, instead, how little they need the organization at all.
Until then, it’s a waiting game over a century in the making.
Editor’s note: This column first appeared on Forbes, but has been republished under the original author’s name at CBBToday thanks to the publisher-contributor agreement.
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