A bill introduced last month could allow college athletes in California to accept sponsorships and endorsements from third-party sources.
Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkley, last month introduced Senate Bill 206, dubbed the Fair to Play Act, which would not give players a salary per se, but rather sanction the NCAA from penalizing players who pursue sponsorship opportunities.
“Over the course of many years, college sports has become quite lucrative,” Faculty Athletics Representative Rick Hasse said. “It’s not really fair that the athletes don’t get a piece of that.”
This senate bill is part of an ongoing saga between college athletes and the NCAA that dates back to the mid 1990s.
In 2009, former UCLA men’s basketball star Ed O’Bannon filed a federal lawsuit against the NCAA for using his likeness from UCLA’s 1995 championship team in the “NCAA Basketball ‘09” video game without his knowledge or consent.
The trial lasted through 2014, with the court ruling in favor of O’Bannon, stating that the NCAA’s practice of barring payment to student athletes violated antitrust laws. The NCAA has since appealed the ruling, but the loss of their video game was only the start.
“This Senate bill is to add further backbone to that judicial case, to say: if you’re going to play sports in California for a state institution, you are going to be compensated for the revenue you generate,” Hasse said.
Earlier in 2006, USC star football running back and Heisman trophy winner Reggie Bush, as well as basketball player O.J. Mayo, were found to have been accepting lavish gifts from sports agents during their time at USC.
For Bush, this included new suits and limousine rides to the Heisman ceremony and NFL Combine, as well as a rent-free home for his family to stay at while he went to school.
While Bush and Mayo went on to play in the NFL and NBA respectively, heavy sanctions were placed on USC that included forfeiting their next season, being stripped of over 30 scholarships, and being barred from postseason competition.
In 2015, the NCAA began to allow schools to pay some of their athletes a cash stipend as to cover extra food, entertainment, or other student fees. However, many feel that these athletes still deserve much more.
“I think that stipend does not amount to as much as those top players truly deserve,” senior basketball player Evan Gustafson said. “They’re always talked about on SportsCenter, Twitter, YouTube, and they get nothing out of it other than draft stock.”
Another concern with the stipend is a problem of fairness. Because the schools have to be selective with the stipend, it could lead to some teams receiving more than another, which then becomes a Title IX problem.
A 2012 study by the National College Players Association and Drexel University Sports Management Program found that the 10 players with the highest market value (ranging from $345,000 to $514,000) all lived below the federal poverty line, while a study in 2014 by the College Sport Research Institute at the University of South Carolina found that male college athletes had a 17.5 percent lower likelihood of graduating when compared to other non-athlete male students.
“(With) the schedule that most D-I athletes go through they have no time to have a job,” Gustafson said. “They go to class, then they got a couple hours of workouts, couple hours of practice and a couple hours of tutoring. Where do they have time to get a job? This sport is their job essentially.”
The NCAA is a billion-dollar organization, that rakes in more than $800 million a year in marketing fees alone.
In addition to being an extremely profitable business, the NCAA is also a non-profit organization, which means they are exempt from paying the federal income tax.
“When the NCAA broadcasts or uses student athletes for their own profit, I think that’s where it becomes a negative.” senior distance runner Rachael Dela Cruz said. “Because [the NCAA] is supposedly invested in the athletes. So if they’re getting something out it and it’s not going back to the athlete, are they really fulfilling their purpose?”
Joey Matsuzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.