Paying Athletes Is Easy

A Common Sense Solution

October 01, 2019 - 2:58 pm

In a ground breaking and potentially paradigm shifting move, the State of California Governor Gavin Newsom yesterday, September 30th, 2019, signed a bill into law that would allow athletes attending its colleges and universities to hire agents to seek out paid endorsement opportunities. Several other states including South Carolina have similar legislation traveling through their various state houses. The NCAA has made clear that any schools in states where it’s legal for its athletes to be paid for their name and likeness would be ineligible for post season play. (Insert obvious joke about California schools not being good enough for post season play). Notwithstanding, as more and more states sign similar legislation into law the NCAA has a massive decision to make.

It’s long been a common prediction that “power 5” conferences desire to break away and operate independently from the NCAA; and if the NCAA doesn’t get out ahead of this situation, digs its heels in, and bans some of the nation’s biggest programs from post season play in order to protect its enormous revenue stream, it could see its very money making assets walk away. How much money? The NCAA reported revenue of over $1 billion in 2017.

Should athletes be paid? For the longest time I was on the side of “no”. After all, if you attend college as a scholarship athlete you receive free tuition, room and board, books, and access to some of the best nutrition and medical care money can buy. By the way, the free tuition doesn’t apply to all athletes because many sports don’t fully fund scholarships. IE baseball players only get a partial scholarship, not 100% free tuition. In the past I might’ve also said that athletes who squander their opportunity at a free education are foolish, and doing so is "on them". But consider the real value of what many athletes receive, and how that value impacts them in the long-term. Room and board now doesn’t help an athlete once they graduate. Access to a fancy locker room now doesn’t help an athlete once they graduate. And in reality, many of the degree programs that gifted athletes move through do nothing to prepare them later in life. General studies? Please. Communications studies? Ha!

Most high profile athletes go to school for two reason only…to play sports and for a path into professional athletics. For the few who make it there, the university has done its job. For those who don’t those athletes are left in a lurch. What now? The only education they’ve received is in academic eligibility.

Back to the NCAA…

How can the NCAA get out ahead of this situation in a way that doesn’t cut egregiously into their billion dollar “amateur” model? The answer is quite simple and it solves many of the inequity questions that will arise…

  1. Allow players to profit of their name and likeness
  2. Generate a list of 10 ways athletes can make money (live appearance, autograph sessions, appearances in commercials, at clinics, etc)
  3. Have a set, consistent amount athletes can make for each of these events regardless of sport or school ($250, maybe?)
  4. Cap the total amount an athlete can earn during their time in college (I've heard anywhere between $10,000-$25,000)
  5. Hold all monies earned in trust until graduation and completion of a financial literacy course.
  6. Don't allow athletes to engage in endorsement opportunities during their sport's active season.
  7. Allow players to seek out agents to generate these opportunities but require a university official's approval.

Simple enough? 7 rules that provide all athletes at the nearly 1,200 member institutions equal access to get paid for their name and likeness. That means a rich donor at Southern Cal can’t pay an athlete $5,000 to appear at his Porche dealership. That also means that a UL Monroe tennis star and an Alabama running back make the same amount for appearing at a local athletic clinic. Sure, the Alabama running back will have more opportunities as demand for his name and likeness is higher, but equal opportunity exists for all.

Is $10,000 over 5 years a small enough amount that the naysayers don’t feel icky? It would set an athlete up for success upon graduation without bankrolling an extravagant lifestyle. And the best part is, it doesn’t cost the NCAA a dime. Everybody gets to make their money.

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