Why “Fair Pay to Play” in College Sports Should Pass

On Monday, September 2, 2019, the California State Assembly voted 72-0 in favor of the passing of a bill that would allow college athletes in many large public and private universities in the state to profit off of their own likeness, a controversial topic that has been contemplated before in the sporting world.

On Monday, September 2, 2019, the California State Assembly voted 72-0 in favor of the passing of a bill that would allow college athletes in many large public and private universities in the state to profit off of their own likeness, a controversial topic that has been contemplated before in the sporting world. This bill, dubbed “Fair Pay to Play,” was unanimously passed in the state Senate that following Wednesday as well. Now, California Governor Gavin Newsom has the next month to decide whether to sign or veto this historic bill.

Currently, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), its colleges, and the coaches of each respective program make millions of dollars off of students’ incredible athletic talents at the college level. What isn’t fair, however, is that the athletes that are generating billions of dollars in revenue do not get a share of the income. Even many athletes in high-profile sports have full athletic scholarships, this is not the case for all, as only 2% of Division I athletes receive some form of scholarship according to NCSA Sports. As the situation stands today, the NCAA practically employs these athletes on free labor. In basketball, for example, they succeed in doing so by strong-arming students into attending at least one year of college, famously dubbed “the one and done rule,” where they are forced to put their health on the line for no monetary compensation. This issue was most recently brought to light with New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson, who almost sustained a major knee injury when he blew through his shoe during his one year at Duke University. If put into effect, this bill would guarantee that each and every student-athlete and their family’s best interests are put first, something which, in many cases, simply means profiting over their skills and talents before going professional.

Similarly, just as college students would be positively impacted, so would the NCAA itself. The organization is riddled with headlines about high school basketball players throughout history opting to skip college athletics in order to go professional, and why wouldn’t they? The choice to not risk their health in college and make money at an earlier age seems like an easy one to make. Players like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Moses Malone have all proven why this bill is needed. Today, examples such as LaMelo Ball and R.J. Hampton show that the NCAA is missing out on having top-class talents play in college because these individuals choose to pursue immediate money and financial security instead of a severely limited college education. Not only do high profile prospects benefit, but average collegiate athletes without realistic professional ambitions do as well, as they would have an opportunity to monetize their respective talents whereas they would not have had that opportunity beforehand. With this bill, many collegiate athletes of varying ability can work towards a college education while they and the NCAA both profit over their athletic talents.

While the benefits of this bill are abundant, the NCAA argues that its passing would give wealthier California schools the upper hand in recruiting student-athletes. This bill would mean students can be offered endorsements and payments from interested programs, which means that there would no longer be a level playing field for schools trying to better their respective athletic programs. In the end, it would simply mean juggernaut programs would be able to financially incentivize players to commit to their school. At the same time, the first step to combating this danger is actually passing the bill. If it went into effect, other states would be forced to pass a similar bill to remain competitive, eventually making it a federal standard for college athletes to get paid. In fact, just two weeks after the vote regarding California’s law, Senator Kevin Parker of New York proposed his own bill to make his home state not only the first to allow student-athletes to profit off their own likeness, but also the first to force college programs to give 15% of their program’s annual revenue to athletes. Others have followed suit also, as politicians in South Carolina, Maryland, Colorado, and Washington have discussed similar laws, with Senator Mark Walker of North Carolina even asking for changes to federal laws.

Another big part of the NCAA’s argument is that college players do get paid—with a world-class college education. This, however, is an egregiously misleading claim, since these student-athletes barely have time to focus on their academics due to their athletic commitments, which is a major concern since only around 1 in 25 college athletes will actually play professionally. As a result of many high-profile football and basketball players forgoing their final years of college to play professionally, many fail to graduate. This is evident from the fact that the majority of March Madness teams have under a 50% graduation rate, with some even at an alarming 0%, per ThinkProgress. Failing to earn a diploma can limit financial opportunities after the players’ short playing careers are over. For millions of Americans across the country, following college sports and teams is a beloved pastime. However, it is not right that the students do not receive a cent of the immense revenue they generate. This audacious, revolutionary bill is the right step toward ensuring student-athletes get what they deserve financially and that we can all continue to enjoy rivalries and big games in the future.

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