The Fair Pay for Play Act: What it Means For the Student-Athlete in NC

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - APRIL 04: President of the National Collegiate Athletic Association Mark Emmert speaks to the media ahead of the Men's Final Four at U.S. Bank Stadium on April 04, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Maxx Wolfson/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - APRIL 04: President of the National Collegiate Athletic Association Mark Emmert speaks to the media ahead of the Men's Final Four at U.S. Bank Stadium on April 04, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Maxx Wolfson/Getty Images) /

California is trying to pass a bill to compensate student-athletes

As it currently stands, the California State Senate passed a bill last month that would pave the way for the state to compensate anyone under the designation “student-athlete” going to USC, UCLA, Stanford, Cal and so on.

The “Fair Pay to Play Act“, formally named SB-206 is being deliberated and voted upon on Tuesday by the State Assembly’s Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism and Internet Media Committee. Should the bill pass, student-athletes in the state of California would be able to be compensated for the use of their own name, likeness and/or image, beginning in the year 2023.

NCAA president Mark Emmert has already begun his blitzkrieg of the bill, sending a letter to members of the committee that if the bill passes as it’s written, the NCAA could bar all 23 Division-I California universities, including four schools in the Pac-12, from competition.

This Fight to Pay Student-Athletes is Just Getting Started

Should this bill pass, it would set a major precedent and could pave the way for other states to follow suit and draft legislation that would compensate the student-athletes in their state schools.

The NCAA, however, has always maintained that these athletes are in amateurs and are unable to be compensated for their skills, as that would make them “professional athletes”.

It isn’t the first time the NCAA has stepped in to make sure student-athletes aren’t compensated for the use of their likeness and image. Many of us remember the fight former student-athletes had with the NCAA and EA Sports when EA’s NCAA Football was using the likeness of players without the consent of the athletes

A bill like this could pave the way for this game coming back and potentially allowing athletes, both present and former, to accept any compensation from the company if they used their likeness and image.

It took the NCAA nearly eight years to resolve the lawsuit stemming from EA’s NCAA Football, and should the NCAA fight this bill, it could face a similar trajectory.

The NCAA Has Been Avoiding Compensating the Student-Athlete for Decades

Most of us probably don’t know that the term “Student-Athlete” was initially coined by the NCAA to avoid properly paying for the medical expenses of athletes getting injured during playing time.

There are so many examples to choose from, but we will use the words of the late NCAA head Walter Byers, which was found in the piece from the Atlantic’s Taylor Branch. The whole piece is worth your time, but we’ll pull a snippet to emphasize the point.

"“We crafted the term student-athlete,” Walter Byers himself wrote, “and soon it was embedded in all NCAA rules and interpretations.” The term came into play in the 1950s, when the widow of Ray Dennison, who had died from a head injury received while playing football in Colorado for the Fort Lewis A&M Aggies, filed for workmen’s-compensation death benefits. Did his football scholarship make the fatal collision a “work-related” accident? Was he a school employee, like his peers who worked part-time as teaching assistants and bookstore cashiers? Or was he a fluke victim of extracurricular pursuits? Given the hundreds of incapacitating injuries to college athletes each year, the answers to these questions had enormous consequences. The Colorado Supreme Court ultimately agreed with the school’s contention that he was not eligible for benefits, since the college was “not in the football business.”"

The term “Student-Athlete” is a rather ambiguous term, and it is meant to be ambiguous so that the NCAA could have the autonomy to decide if it’s players were going to be paid or, ultimately, not.

With So Much Money Being Poured Into The Sport, It’s Impossible to Say There’s Not Enough Money

The argument that there is not enough money to pay the student-athletes doesn’t hold water like it did during the 50’s or 60’s, not as long as conferences continue to sign massive television deals to broadcast college games.

On top of that, the passage of this bill would more than likely eliminate the need to pay athletes under the table or illegally to get players to go to specific schools, or at the very least make the need so obsolete that only the very desperate schools would need to do that.

With the bill, the need to employ the death penalty for the SMU athletics department could have been avoided, which the school, for the most part, has never recovered from.

On top of that, compensating a student-athlete with endorsement deals or at least allowing them to make deals like that would eliminate most athletes from leaving school almost immediately if the schools could make endorsement packages or other companies could make the prospect of making more money in endorsements more lucrative than a professional sports contract.

So…What Does This Mean For North Carolina?

As it stands, the state of North Carolina has UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke University and North Carolina State University, all of which are power players and huge revenue generators for the ACC just in the state of North Carolina alone. East Carolina resides in the American Conference, UNC-Charlotte competes in the Conference USA and Appalachian State was recently added to the Sun-Belt, making at least six Division-I schools in the state and that’s not even including other schools who play Division-1 basketball.

Should a bill be presented in similar nature in the state, it could make a coast-to-coast issue that the NCAA would have to deal with: fighting to compensate student-athletes in multiple states.

Will it be likely to happen? As far as I see it, nothing will probably happen in the state until more states get involved.

Ultimately, I think that if a state with a similar large football presence like California joined, let’s say Texas or Florida, you will start to see more states introducing legislation to compensate student-athletes.

This fight I’m sure will more than likely be taken all the way to the Supreme Court and could start to ask the question: do these universities really need the NCAA to govern how they run things?