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First Downs and Second Guesses

Blog #172 - September 2019

Well, we have another discussion about paying college athletes.  The "players" in this discussion are Tim Tebow, Jay Bilas, and the California State Senate.

Tebow is the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Florida and current ESPN college football analyst.  Speaking last week on "First Take," he stated that paying student athletes would turn the NCAA "into the NFL where who has the most money, that's where you go."  

He went on to state that when he played at Florida, he didn't want any money for the time he devoted to football, nor did he want any cut of the profits the athletic department reaped by using his name and likeness.  He said he was motivated to play college football because of his family connections to Florida and the pride he took from representing the university.

Jay Bilas is a former Duke University basketball player and current ESPN college basketball analyst.  He has countered Tebow's observation that college athletes don't deserve compensation with his own offer to Tebow.

"Tim could choose to work for free at ESPN, if he wants to," Bilas told The Washington Post in a phone interview.  "That doesn't mean I should work for free.  An individual choice does not justify the policy."

Tebow's comments were his reaction to the California State Senate passing a bill allowing student-athletes to have endorsements.  The Fair Pay to Play Act, a bill that this week passed the California state legislature, would allow college athletes in that state to make money off their names and likenesses and maintain NCAA eligibility.

Bilas, who is a practicing attorney, differs strongly with Tebow.

"It's immoral for college athletes to be told they're worth nothing when they're not worth nothing, they're worth billions," he said.  "This train is rolling down the tracks toward compensation and the NCAA's response is, 'Let's lash the players to the tracks and tell lawmakers they'll be hurting the student-athletes.'  That's simply not true."

The bill awaits California Governor Gavin Newsom's signature.  The legislation, once ratified, is set to take effect in 2023 and would set up a fierce court battle between the NCAA and the state of California, home to some of college sports' most iconic brands.

Tebow stated that while at Florida, his number 15 jersey was a top-seller ("Right behind Kobe and LaBron", Tebow said).  But he said he didn't expect, or want, to receive compensation because he knew what college was all about.

Bilas stated that when he saw Tebow's segment, he believed it was a valuable perspective.  Bilas likened it to professional athletes, like Patriot quarterback Tom Brady, who choose to accept less money in their contract so their teams have more capital to sign other great players.

"But that's a choice," Bilas states.  "College athletes don't have one.  Instead, the NCAA insists individual players don't hold any market value and therefore don't deserve compensation.  That's an outright lie, and they know it."

This scenario has been played out in the past.  A lawsuit by former college athletes against the NCAA and EA Sports was won by the plaintiffs when a jury found that the NCAA and EA Sports had used and profited by using the names and likenesses of college players in computer games.  Those former athletes were compensated for the use of their names and likenesses.

If it is found in 2023 or after court battles that the Fair Pay to Play Act is indeed a legitimate law to be reckoned with, all Division I schools in the state of California would have a huge recruiting advantage over states that do not have that law.

If I'm a recruiter for a Division I school in California, I'm going to be pitching the benefits of that bill to the recruit and his family.  And if that recruit is in a cash-strapped family, where do you think Mom and Dad will want Junior to go to school?  If the recruit can not only receive a full scholarship to attend the school AND gain additional compensation for his jersey, autograph, and commercial endorsements, why would he/she want to attend school anywhere else?

Big-time Division I athletic programs bring in tens of millions of dollars in revenue because of the success of their athletic teams.  Those athletic teams are successful because of good coaching and exemplary athletes.  Those athletes are why the program is successful, and they deserve a piece of the revenue pie.

The eyes of all Division I athletic administrators will be watching closely the future of the Fair Pay to Play Act in California.  Will this be the legal apparatus to pave the way for paying future collegiate student-athletes?  We'll have to wait and see.

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