The fight for college athlete compensation strikes the nation



The National Collegiate Athletic Association, “a member-led organization dedicated to the well-being and lifelong success of college athletes,” has now been around for over 110 years. In that time, the millions of athletes who have played under the association have acquired exactly $0 from their participation.

To put it in perspective, Alabama’s football team, who currently sits at the top of the week nine Associated Press and coaches polls with a 7-0 record, made a record-breaking $45.96 million profit in its 2017 season according to USA Today.

In total, the team produced a record $108.2 million in revenue and accumulated $62.2 million in operating expenses during the 2017 season time frame. The football team’s $108.2 million revenue alone accounted for 62 percent of Alabama’s entire athletic department revenue of $174.3 million. Overall after the football program’s profits and total expenditures, the athletic department netted an overall profit of $15.7 million.

But where exactly is that $15 million going? Not to the players. In the NCAA’s 113 years of operating, not a single collegiate athlete has been paid outside of scholarships.

That will change soon though, at least on a small scale following California Governor Gavin Newson’s signing of bill SB 206, the “Fair Pay to Play Act” which will go into effect in January 2023.

The act in question will allow collegiate athletes to receive compensation for their participation which will not conflict with scholarship offers.

“It’s a very tough conversation right now,” AU men’s basketball head coach John Ellenwood said. “There’s a lot of people that are opposed to college athletes getting paid, they think they get paid enough with scholarships.”

The key principle of the Fair Pay to Play Act is an athlete’s ability to make money off their own names, images or likenesses, just as professional athletes do with endorsements, sponsorship pacts and other image rights.

The bill does not deal with universities paying their athletes directly, but rather makes it illegal for universities to punish athletes for pursuing compensation opportunities.

“The thing is, the money isn’t coming from the university,” Ellenwood said. “If there’s an 18-year-old kid who is able to benefit from their abilities, why are we prohibiting them from making money off their talents? If the car dealership down the street wants to have an athlete promote their business in order to sell a car and both parties benefit financially, I don’t see a problem with that.”

The bill was passed in California with an outpouring of support from athletes, coaches and even celebrities.

Duke men’s basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement that the bill stands as a “sign of the times that we in college athletics must continually adapt.”

He went on to explain that he was glad that SB 206 was passed because it “pushes the envelope.”

NBA Los Angeles Lakers star Lebron James has also been very vocal on the effect SB 206 will have on college athletics.

In a tweet posted on his Twitter account on Sept. 5, 2019, James tweeted: “Everyone in California – call your politicians and tell them to support SB 206! This law is a GAME CHANGER. College athletes can responsibly get paid for what they do and the billions they create.”

Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors even went as far as referring to the NCAA as a “dictatorship” that uses a “bankrupt model,” a term coined by Gov. Newson.

“Colleges reap billions from these student athletes’ sacrifices and success but, in the same breath, block them from earning a single dollar,” Newson said. “That’s a bankrupt model — one that puts institutions ahead of the students they are supposed to serve. It needs to be disrupted.”

While the act is currently only going to affect California schools, the act is expected to spread to other states, which poses a major problem for the NCAA.

“The NCAA is trying to figure out how it’s going to affect them,” AU Athletic Director Al King said. “I don’t think anyone knows exactly what’s going to happen yet in terms of it spreading outside of California. That’s the grand question. The best case scenario is if the NCAA comes up with some broader legislation to handle it.”

The NCAA said it opposes the bill as it would create an imbalance within the sport. The bill gives the 58 NCAA schools in California an unfair recruiting advantage while making them ineligible to compete in NCAA competitions, according to a letter sent to the state of California by the NCAA’s board of governors.

The NCAA isn’t the only entity that opposes the bill, however.

“We’re firmly against anything that would lead to a pay-for-play system,” Pac-12 Commisioner Larry Scott said in a press release. “This will create an arms race in California, and the best recruits will go there. Why would someone go to Tuscaloosa, Alabama and make no money, when they could live in LA and make money off endorsements?”

Other opponents of the bill believe that it will take away from the core goal of the NCAA.

The word that is thrown around the most within the Fair Pay to Play debate is amateurism; whether collegiate athletes getting paid like professionals will diminish the line between college athletics and professional athletics.

“I’ve always been big on the amateur piece but college athletics aren’t what they used to be,” said King. “It hasn’t been focused on amateurism in a long time, who ever would have ever thought there would be this much money in college athletics? We live in a different era now.”

Along with Scot, Ohio State University Athletic Director Gene Smith strongly opposes the bill.

“The NCAA is an organization that has taken a long time to try and modernize itself. What we can’t have is situations where we have schools and/or states with different rules for an organization that’s going to compete together. It can’t happen; it’s not reality,” Smith said in a discussion with ESPN’s Edward Aschoff.

Supporters and opposers of the bill alike are interested to find out what changes will occur to the NCAA landscape before the bill goes into action in January, 2023.

Some believe that if the NCAA does not submit to California’s decision, a new conference may emerge where players would be paid. If the NCAA does submit, many other states would likely follow suit as the NCAA would have to pass legislation that covers all affiliated schools.

“I think at the higher levels, athletes deserve some sort of reward for their achievements,” AU women’s basketball player Jodi Johnson said. “Look at players like Zion Williamson, we’re all amateurs but some of these athletes are earning a ton of money and they should be able to get paid for.”

Johnson went on to say the bill may pose problems, too, however.

“It has a possibility to affect team chemistry off and on the court,” she said. “It makes sense as a change but there’s a lot of other things to consider.”

Although the Fair Pay to Play Act will affect all divisions of the NCAA, the bill primarily focuses on Division I.

“Who’s to say what will happen down the road,” King said. “Usually it hits the Division I level then trickles down so in some manner it may affect Division II and Ashland University, but I can’t tell you what that is right now because I don’t know.”

“It’s going to initiate dozens of other states to introduce similar legislation,” Newson said on HBO’s The Shop before signing SB 206 alongside Lebron James, Katelyn Ohashi and other athletes. “It’s going to change college sports for the better by having the interests of the athletes finally on par with the interests of the institutions. We’re rebalancing that power arrangement.”