If the NCAA truly values anything, it’s the association’s absolute dominance over the hundreds of universities and thousands of student-athletes that it governs, as well as its business model built on the foundation of collegiate amateurism.
With unanimous approval from the California state legislature, Senate Bill 206 — dubbed the Fair Pay to Play Act — is looking to rightfully upend the NCAA’s exploitative ways of managing its athletes. The bill proposes radical changes to the college landscape that would enable student-athletes to both hire agents and profit from their name, image and likeness, all without negative repercussions such as ineligibility. The bill would formally go into effect beginning on Jan. 1, 2023 if California Gov. Gavin Newsom signs the bill into law.
NCAA President Mark Emmert and 21 other members of the organization’s board of governors are, as expected, quite unhappy with such a proposal. In a letter sent to Gov. Newsom on Wednesday, the board argued that such a bill was unconstitutional, harmful and would unilaterally shatter “a level playing field for all student-athletes.”
It would be one thing if the NCAA were solely worried about the logistics of one state thrusting thousands of its student-athletes into a new collegiate sports model full of agents and dollar signs. It would be another thing if the NCAA were merely waiting for its working group to deliver its opinion on athlete compensation in October before suggesting immediate change.
But that’s not the case here. That’s not what the NCAA is worried about.
Rather, the NCAA is worried about the mere idea of athletes earning some form of compensation, along with the threat that its member schools are fighting against its well-established decrees.
That’s why the association is brandishing the threat of disqualification over California’s schools: Its working group isn’t seriously considering monetary compensation for athletes, and Mark Emmert surely won’t allow one state to jump in and try to force his hand.
Dissension results in punishment. In this instance, the NCAA is willing to prohibit 58 California universities from participating in NCAA competition if the bill turns into law, effectively disowning 24,000 student-athletes.
This is all because the NCAA believes the bill would, “remove that essential element of fairness and equal treatment that forms the bedrock of college sports.”
If fairness is what the NCAA wishes to protect, then why does it regularly turn a blind eye to its high-profile programs whenever scandals arise? Why do college coaches ink multi-million-dollar contracts while their players get nothing but hours of classwork and unfulfilling meal plans? Why do other students get to work toward an income while student-athletes are forced to choose between eligibility and making a living? Can there even be fairness without fair compensation?
And, if the NCAA is worried that a select group of prestigious schools (and their boosters) would disrupt competitive balance, then what does it make of the current college landscape? Football powerhouse Alabama has more recruiting resources than Alcorn State. The same goes for the likes of Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill, whose basketball players routinely get access to NBA mentors and exclusive products from Nike and Jordan Brand.
That’s why the NCAA is lashing out — because it knows that it stands on faulty ground. Neither fairness nor amateurism truly exist in a highly-contentious market that generates this much TV and marketing revenue.
The NCAA knows that, no matter how hard it pretends, its student-athletes aren’t employees and that other dissenters will arise. California won’t be the first state to push back against the amateurism sham. South Carolina is already following suit and other states will surely jump on the bandwagon.
As they should.
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