Opinion: The Major Holes in the NCAA’s Nickel and Dime Defense of Their Amateur Rules

A subset of the NCAA’s rules have resulted in the exploitation of college athletes around the country. This may not have been the intended effect of those rules, but it still has had this effect, regardless of intent.

This has been an ongoing issue for years. Now that there is finally legislation which would be major progress on this issue, the NCAA has written a letter to Governor Newsom to dissuade him from signing the legislation.

One of the basic arguments that the NCAA offers is that by not allowing college athletes to be “paid to pay,” this ensures fairness. This claim doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. On its face, allowing some to profit off a person while not allowing the person in question to also profit is markedly unfair. Furthermore, the collegiate system isn’t exactly a level playing field.

The NCAA is arguing an ‘ought,’ not an ‘is.’ They are arguing to maintain a level playing field that doesn’t exist in reality while arguing for the rejection of legislation that would actually help collegiate players and would be much fairer, in reality.

As far as the recruitment argument, they argue that it would give unfair recruiting advantages. Firstly, those advantages already exist and are well documented. Secondly, how can they be sure that this would result in that outcome? From my perspective, it might actually reduce recruiting advantages.

If you are a quality player and you have a choice between a team that already has numerous players who get top billing or another team where you’d be the main attraction, you might do some calculus and determine that you’ll be paid more at a smaller school. You might not even be paid at all for at least the first couple years at the more popular school, if you are faced with having to work your way into the starting rotation.

This would be in the mind of each and every quality player and even those who are working their tails off to become quality players. This could completely change the recruiting dynamic, if this legislation expanded nationwide. It could ensure that talent is distributed more evenly around the country, which could be another step towards a more level playing field, as far as competition.

I’d also argue that if the NCAA worked to prevent this kind of legislation from expanding nationwide, they could be working to ensure an uneven playing field. Because once this kind of legislation is enacted nationwide, current and future collegiate athletes from around the nation would all have access to this protection.

Any work to prevent future expansion would functionally serve to limit access for many people. If the NCAA wants to encourage a level playing field, they should welcome and promote this and future legislation, not discourage or work against it.

Finally, the claim that this could be unconstitutional legislation does not comport with the Constitution. A thorough review reveals no mention of collegiate athletics. Nor does it reveal a justification for withholding payment in return for using a person’s name, image and likeness in marketing or other commercial enterprises.

I hope Governor Newsom signs that legislation and I hope other states follow California’s lead on this matter. College athletes like Zack Moss, Amelia Johnson, Jaylen Waddle, Evelyn Adebayo, Sam Ehlinger, Justin Fields, Jamie Peterson, and so many others deserve to be compensated when their name, image and likeness are used to market future matches or are used in video games, among countless commercial examples. As a person who holds progressive values, SB 206 is representative of the progress I hold in high esteem. I hope to see even more legislation that works on behalf of the people.