Journal Times editorial: College athletes should be allowed to market themselves
Our Perspective

Journal Times editorial: College athletes should be allowed to market themselves

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University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban will make $6.5 million to coach the Crimson Tide this season, but with performance incentives that dollar amount could rise.

The University of Alabama Athletic Department’s profit was $48.2 million (up more than $2 million) on revenue of $111.1 million in 2018, reported in January. The bottom line has Alabama's total athletics revenue at $177.5 million -- up from 2018's $174.3 million that was then the school record.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association, the governing body of most college sports, brought in $1 billion of revenue during the 2016-2017 school year — most of which was generated by the Division I Men's Basketball Tournament, also known as March Madness, reported in March.

Based on data drawn from media reports and state salary databases, reported in 2013, in 27 states the highest-paid public employee was the head football coach of that state’s largest university. In 13 other states it was the men’s basketball head coach. There’s a lot of money to be made in college athletics. For everyone except the college athletes, that is.

It’s big business, except for the athletes, who do receive a full athletic scholarship -- tuition, room and board for free -- but in many big-time programs have a full-time job in addition to being a full-time student. That full-time job is being a member of the team. Any measures to give these student-athletes any kind of additional stipiend or compensation have been shot down in the name of “amateurism” and “they should be grateful they’re getting an education for free.”

We presume most of them are grateful. But some special individuals are the primary reason a 70,000-seat stadium is filled to capacity on a Saturday afternoon, or that a 18,000-seat arena is jammed on a Wednesday night. Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom put it this way on Sept. 30: "Every single student in the university can market their name, image and likeness; they can go and get a YouTube channel, and they can monetize that. The only group that can’t are athletes. Why is that?” Newsom and the California Legislature don’t see that as fair, so on Sept. 30 California became the first state to require major financial reforms in college athletics after Newsom signed into law a measure that allows players to receive endorsement deals, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Other states have proposed similar measures to pressure the NCAA, but so far only California is on a collision course with the governing body of college athletics.

California Senate Bill 206 prohibits the NCAA from barring a university from competition if its athletes are compensated for the use of their name, image or likeness beginning Jan. 1, 2023. If the new law survives possible legal challenges, it would allow college athletes to sign endorsement deals, but it could also open up smaller opportunities that were previously prohibited, such as paid youth coaching positions or signing autographs for money. SB 206 still forbids schools from paying athletes.

Newsom said he felt strongly the state needed to address the racial, gender and economic injustices ingrained in college athletics.

“I have deep reverence, deep respect for the NCAA and college athletics,” said Newsom, who played baseball at Santa Clara University. “I just think the system has been perverted, and this is fundamentally about rebalancing things. It’s about equity, it’s about fairness, and it’s about time.”

That same day the NCAA said it was considering “next steps in California,” and expressed concerns about a patchwork of state regulations on athlete compensation.

We recognize that the potential for abuse would exist. It's not hard to imagine a five-star football recruit graduating a semester early from high school to enroll in college on Jan. 5, then on Jan. 6 announce an endorsement deal with the owner of Go State U Electronics for $20,000 a month. There would certainly need to be some kind of regulation on athlete compensation. 

There will surely be a court battle, if not between the NCAA and California, then between the NCAA and whichever state is next to take steps in the same direction.

It’s something we feel should go to court. The NCAA and its member schools haven’t volunteered to let student-athletes profit from the use of their likenesses, so it will probably take a court to compel them to do so. If student-athletes can’t market themselves for profit, neither should the NCAA profit off their likenesses, and neither should their universities.


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