NCAA vs. Pay-to-Play

By: Aiden Holczer

College sports, one of America’s most popular pastimes, and a multi-billion dollar industry. Since its infancy, one thing has remained constant: the schools have profited immensely while the athletes have received no recognized financial compensation outside of tuition. It is disenginius though to suggest that these athletes have not been compensated in other, more nefarious ways . It is common knowledge that under-the-table deals and illegal recruiting have run rampant since the founding of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

The lack of compensation these college athletes receive, at least in California, is about to change. On Monday, September 30th, as a guest on LeBron James’s HBO show The Shop, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the Fair Pay to Play Act into law. The law is set to come into effect in 2023, effectively allowing student athletes to profit off their names and likeness. This allows player to sign endorsement deals, with any number of businesses, from sports drinks to video game companies. To be clear, this law will not allow colleges to pay their athletes directly; it simply provides an opportunity to profit off their likeness.

When asked on The Shop about the reasoning behind the creation of this law, Governor Newsom stated that the purpose was to create a more level playing field between the institutions and the players. Many former and current players across all sports have voiced their support for this act. LeBron James, the most famous NBA player of this generation, views this act as an opportunity for kids like himself to make it out of their less favorable situations. LeBron was born in Akron Ohio, to a single mother and spent most of his childhood in poverty. Due to his God-given talent, LeBron was able to go straight to the NBA out of highschool, skipping college entirely and profiting immensely. This was all before the infamous “one and done rule” was implemented, which forced all aspiring NBA players to attend at least one year of college or go overseas to play before entering the NBA draft. For players that aren’t 6”9 freaks of nature like LeBron, and can’t go straight to the NBA out of highschool, this rule provides them an opportunity to make money and help their families out while getting an education. 

Another player that has voiced his support of this act is 49ers cornerback and 4x Pro Bowler Richard Sherman. Sherman has taken a more extreme view, saying that he hopes “[The Fair Pay to Play Act] destroys the NCAA because I think it’s corrupt, and it’s a bunch of people taking advantage of kids and doing it under a mask of fair play,” going on to say that this act will force the NCAA to “adapt or die.”

On the other side of the spectrum is the NCAA itself. As the governing body of all college sports across the United States, they see this act as a danger to what they hold dearest: their profit margins. In a letter to California’s state legislature leader, the NCAA called the act “harmful and, we believe, unconstitutional.”  Besides financial interests, the NCAA has a valid argument against this act. If California is the only state to adopt a law such as this, it could create an unfair advantage for California athletics, which could now provide the sole opportunity in the country for athletes to profit off of their names, leading to more high quality recruitment classes and an unfair playing field for other colleges around the country. 

This fear of an uneven playing field between college institutions can also be seen as a negotiation tool by California. It seems the NCAA has two roads ahead of them, revoke California colleges ability to play in the NCAA, or accept an act similar to the Fair Pay to Play Act for all state institutions. California and all of the athletes that have voiced their support of this act, obviously hope the NCAA chooses the latter of the two options. I am inclined to believe they will choose the second option. At the end of the day, taking a small hit to the NCAA’s profit margin is better than losing out on all profits from one of the largest states in the country full of historic schools like UCLA, Stanford, and USC. Add that there are already rumblings from other states looking to pass similar acts, and I think we are watching what is soon to be the largest rule change in NCAA history.

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