Schwartz: The Bully Gets Bullied

June 27, 2019

Written by David Schwartz

The NCAA, a sham of an organization if there ever was one, traffickers of flapdoodle and faux morality, are in a stare-down with a playground bully that even they might not be able to stand up to.

A committee of the California State Assembly passed a bill Tuesday that would require colleges in the state to let their athletes earn money off of their own likeness. This is not a bill that demands schools pay college athletes, which is untenable, but rather one that says college athletes can get paid by others, e.g. an athlete receiving money to star in a commercial or appear in a video game.

The Fair Pay to Play Act still needs to work through another committee and then make its way to the full Assembly for a vote. If it passes, California universities that earn more than $10 million annually from media rights will have to let their student-athletes earn money. Presently, that includes UCLA, Stanford, Cal, USC and some other California schools, according to Sports Illustrated. It would take effect in 2023 in order to give the NCAA time to adjust to the change.

I’m not one to get involved in California politics, but boy does this bill need to become California law. Predictably, the NCAA responded by sending a strongly worded letter urging the Assembly to kill the bill. I’m not going to squander my word count regurgitating the NCAA’s hilariously bloviated plea. Click here for a good chuckle.

California brings the muscle. If it was a standalone country, it would have one of the 10 largest economies in the world. It also has a state government that champions fairness and appears to have no time for the NCAA’s empty rhetoric. The NCAA in theory could expel California universities for violating antiquated amateur rules, but that would have a massive effect on the Pac-12, which means the NCAA’s mildew would spread to Colorado, Utah, Washington, Oregon, and Arizona.

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Both parties have leverage, but California’s is more powerful and more realistic.

Besides, the argument against letting college athletes earn money is a stupid one, so let’s get this out of the way quickly. Yes, they get an athletic scholarship worth six figures in free college tuition, but they should still be able to earn more money. Charles Grassley makes his living as a United States senator from Iowa – should he not get paid for helping run his family’s farm? Should I not get paid by Hawkeye Nation since I already get paid in my full-time job? (Please don’t answer that.)

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NCAA executives swim in pools of money while their athletes – some rich, more poor, most middle class – want extra cash for food as well as other necessary or luxury items. There are athletes who need to earn as much as they can now because of the inequitable salary practices they’ll face in adulthood. And there are no doubt some who don’t need the money but just want to buy a fancy car, and that’s OK, too. Why? Because it’s their bodies, their skills, their hard work, and their effort being used, and it’s no more right to deny them the opportunity to make money than it would to deny an author such as Veronica Roth, who sold her “Divergent” book series, which ended up earning millions, while still in college.

I don’t know whether she was on any kind of scholarship at Northwestern, but if she was, imagine how ridiculous this sentence would sound: “Veronica Roth may not sell the publishing or movie rights to her books because the school has awarded her an academic scholarship.”

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So bravo, California, for getting right up in the NCAA’s face and daring them to expel USC, Stanford, and UCLA, all storied college programs. If the Fair Pay to Play Act does pass, it likely will end up in litigation hell, but let that happen when it happens. The important thing is someone finally took a meaningful step to right a wrong. That alone counts as a win.

* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.

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