California is looking to change college athletics as we know them. The state has signed into law the Fair Pay to Play Act, which would bar the NCAA and its schools from preventing college athletes from profiting off of their likeness.
The law is set to go into effect in 2023. Between now and then, you can expect the NCAA to try its best to fight it hard.
California is not alone though. States as politically diverse as Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas have all floated similar laws.
It is rare to see an issue with this kind of bipartisan support, and while not everyone is on board with athletes getting paid salaries by schools, the number of people against athletes being able to pick up outside endorsements is dwindling.
Count Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith among them though.
Like most college athletic department employees at this point, Smith is holding the NCAA company line, and raising some questionably salient points and concerns. From ESPN:
"My concern with the California bill -- which is all the way wide open with monetizing your name and your likeness -- is it moves slightly towards pay-for-play," Smith said, "and it's very difficult for us -- the practitioners in this space -- to figure out how do you regulate it. How do you ensure that the unscrupulous bad actors do not enter that space and ultimately create an unlevel playing field?
"One of our principles is try to create rules and regulations to try and achieve fair play.
Smith acknowledged that Ohio State, which has an enormous alumni base and abundant resources, would have an "unbelievable competitive advantage" over a lot of other schools from a system like this, but he is still against it.
A few things:
- No one believes that we're going to move towards some new model with no regulations.
- "Unscrupulous bad actors" are already incredibly prevalent in college sports. Go look at the scandals in college basketball. Anyone who believes college football is immune to similar forces is extremely naive. Go read Steven Godfrey's excellent 2014 SB Nation feature "Meet the bag man" for how that works in major college football.
- College football already has a tremendously unlevel playing field. In a given year, there are maybe a half-dozen true title contenders, and that list is pretty static from year to year. There's also an argument to be made that elite players could find more value in being a "big fish in a small pond" with a model that allows them to profit off of their likeness.
- Ohio State already has a huge competitive advantage. That isn't going to change drastically, no matter what happens in the sport.
The NCAA has floated ridiculous ideas, like the notion that it will cast out California schools if the Fair Pay to Play Act is implemented by 2023. People like Dabo Swinney swear that they'll enter a new profession and give up their multi-million dollar contracts if players are able to get paid.
In reality, that is all noise.
Right now, elite programs collect tens of millions of dollars, and the players get scholarship money towards a degree that they may be able to use to study something that they're actually interested in. That is often not even the case. It is very hard to argue that it is a fair system, and change feels more inevitable than ever.