California law will prod NCAA to share loot

Rob Oller
California Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a law that would let athletes at California universities make money from their images, names or likenesses. [File photo]

Ohio State is in the black. And I’m not talking about the uniform color the Buckeyes will be wearing against Michigan State on Saturday night.

This black is OSU’s bank account. Conversely, Buckeyes fans may bleed scarlet, but their team is anything but in the red. Same goes for the coaches, administrators and NCAA ruling body that collectively rakes in billions while the worker bees exist on a touch of honey.

Remember that, because money and control — who wields it, who wants it and who deserves it — is the basis of the California NIL legislation signed into law on Monday by Gov. Gavin Newsom and set to take effect in 2023.

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The first-in-the-nation law opens the way for college athletes to hire agents and make money off their name, image and likeness (NIL). That involves anything from inking endorsement deals to signing autographs for profit.

California is just the beginning. Florida has NIL legislation pending that would take effect in 2020. This horrifies the NCAA, troubles athletic directors like Ohio State’s Gene Smith and sends shivers through fans who want their amateur athletes to shut up and be thankful for the scholarship money they receive.

But the times they are a changin’, and the NCAA has dragged its feet on joining the 21st century.

“The NCAA has taken a long time to modernize,” Smith said on Tuesday, before adding that administrators “wanted to do this or talk about it a long time ago, but lawsuits were hanging over our heads.”

Ah yes, those dastardly lawsuits. Remember the millions spent on legal fees the next time you hear an athletic director warn that the school’s field hockey or lacrosse teams might need to get whacked if paying football and basketball players becomes the norm. Seems like if there is cash to pay lawyers, then there is cash to take care of every athlete.

“The NCAA needs to get out front on this,” said David Ridpath, associate professor of sports business at Ohio University. “The sad thing is the organization will fight and eventually lose and (spend) millions and millions they claim they don’t have.”

Ridpath rolls his eyes when college administrators bring the doom and gloom. His answer to those who wonder how schools will regulate and manage NIL?

“I don’t think it’s as complicated as some make it out to be,” he said. “They used to have entire staffs of people who worried about (a college athlete) getting a sandwich.”

Here’s the thing: Schools like Ohio State won’t lose money if NIL payments become the norm, because they won’t be the ones handing out the dough. Nike, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola will take care of that.

What really worries the powers that be — and there is reason for concern — is fear of the amateur model collapsing into a professional one. As if that hasn’t happened already.

Smith confirmed as much.

“Monetizing name, image and likeness moves us slightly toward pay for play,” he said.

Another somewhat straw man argument is that NIL will kill competitive balance; schools with more marketing resources, like Ohio State, Texas and Alabama, will attract the best recruits. Uh, isn’t that already happening?

“The richer (getting richer) will be different,” said Smith, who is open to federal laws that regulate NIL across the board instead of each state creating its own laws. “Think of it from a business point of view. Imagine you’re the AD at Ohio State and have massive resources and a massive alumni base … this creates a competitive advantage for us who have the capacity to do that. Other places won’t.”

In other words, Smith is looking out for the little guys. Good for him. That's called seeking fair play.

But what about the littlest guys and gals — the athletes?

“There is not a better time to be a student-athlete than today,” Smith said.

Except maybe in 2023, or as soon as NIL becomes a reality.


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