The NCAA has had many chances over many years to reform its exploitative rules. It has instead remained content to funnel millions of dollars a year to universities, coaches, athletic directors, broadcasters, sports-apparel companies and, naturally, NCAA executives – while leaving student athletes out in the cold. It’s commendable, then, that California has taken matters into its own hands in an effort to get fairer treatment for students. We worry that its solution doesn’t address the root of the problem – that college should be more about learning than making money – but it’s a good start toward change.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, this week signed into law a measure to allow college athletes to earn money from endorsements. “Every single student in the university can market their name, image and likeness,” he said. “The only group that can’t are athletes. Why is that?” The Fair Pay to Play Act, the first of its kind in the country, challenges long-standing rules that bar students on athletic scholarships from being paid beyond the value of their scholarship – and the NCAA is apoplectic. In a letter to Newsom, NCAA’s Board of Governors threatened to ban California athletes from its competitions, and it has suggested it might sue.
The law takes effect in 2023, so the NCAA has time to devise its own solution. Hoping to stave off California’s legislation, it had convened a committee, but California officials were rightly skeptical. “People said, ‘You know what, we’ve got to force their hands,’ ” Newsom told The New York Times. “They only do the right thing when they’re sued or they’re forced to do the right thing.” That the measure passed unanimously and has led other states to consider similar action should prod the NCAA to confront its hypocrisy.
Allowing student athletes to make money through endorsement deals, however, will help only a small number of college athletes in certain sports at certain schools in certain markets. Attention needs to be paid to the students recruited on sports scholarships who won’t get endorsement deals, who won’t go on to play professional sports and who find out the hard way that their four years on the field or in the gym have left them poorly prepared for life.