The California State Assembly passed a long overdue bill earlier this month, allowing NCAA athletes to make money off of their name, image, and likeness. The bill goes into effect Jan. 1, 2023. While it is a step in the right direction, the fight is far from over, as the other 49 states haven’t taken action on the issue, and the NCAA is expected to litigate the matter. NCAA president Mark Emmert wrote a letter in June, saying that California schools could face expulsion from the NCAA if the bill passed.
The NCAA has long taken advantage of their athletes. Hundreds of thousands of fans fill stadiums on fall Saturday’s to watch their favorite collegiate football team, and millions more watch on television. Tens of thousands of fans fill basketball arenas during the winter, with millions more tuning in to watch March Madness. And, quietly, baseball has become a revenue sport as well, with tens of thousands of fans filing into collegiate ballparks, and millions more watching the College World Series in Omaha come June. The players that these fans watch, aren’t allowed to earn a cent.
For some reason, there’s been push-back against the idea that the players generating millions — if not billions — of dollars in revenue should have at least a small slice of the pie. Many fans will confuse this bill that allows collegiate players to have a salary. Many fans will say that it works for the Florida and Florida State’s of the world, but it doesn’t work for the Florida Southern’s. This simply isn’t true, and the California bill works for every school at every level.
Rewind to 2013. The NCAA launched an investigation into Texas A&M quarterback and 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. Manziel was allegedly paid to sign autographs. Depending on the severity of his infraction, Manziel could have been banned from playing collegiate football. In an effort to thwart the investigation, Texas A&M suspended Manziel for the first half of their first game of the season, and the NCAA dropped the investigation. It turns out that the investigation couldn’t prove Manziel was paid, but that he knew the autographs he was signing were going to be sold. It isn’t illegal for the athlete to sign, as popular collegiate athletes do it often, but it is illegal for the athlete to make money off of it.
But what if Manziel were paid? Would that hurt anyone? Why shouldn’t Manziel have been allowed to make money off of his fame? Would it hurt the NCAA or Texas A&M? The answer is of course not, but per the NCAA bylaws on likeness, it’s illegal. However, that’s an example of a big name at a big school, but how could it help the little guys at the small schools?
Florida Southern College is a NCAA D2 school with about 2,500 students. Athletic events are usually free, and the sports likely don’t generate any revenue for the school. If a Florida Southern baseball player took a job at a batting cage and wanted to give hitting lessons, the batting cage would not be allowed to advertise that they have a collegiate baseball player giving lessons, as it would violate their likeness bylaws. How does that baseball player making $40 off of a hitting lesson hurt the NCAA or Florida Southern College? It doesn’t.
Increasingly, there’s issues surrounding likeness and social media. Companies approach athletes with large followings on social media for giveaways and promotions. Seems harmless, right? Well, if a collegiate athlete does a sponsored social media giveaway, it violates the NCAA likeness bylaws.
Allowing players to capitalize on their name and likeness should be common sense, and it works for everyone. Manziel probably could have made thousands off of that one autograph session, which is fair, as he was the most popular collegiate football player in the country at the time. Athletes that are less well-known and at smaller schools likely couldn’t make thousands, but they could make something. It’s a naturally built in wage scale that people claim would bankrupt the small schools. However, changing this bylaw puts the money making in the hands of the athlete, not the school. California did the right thing, now the other 49 states and the NCAA need to fall in line.