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Credit: Alec Druggan

In a move that has angered the NCAA and sparked a renewal of the athlete compensation debate, the state of California passed its Fair Pay to Play Act on Sept. 30.

Among the 10 states proposing similar bills is Pennsylvania.

Slated to go into effect in 2023, California’s bill grants collegiate athletes the ability to profit from their name, image, and likeness (NIL). Although many of the other proposed bills are also given the misleading “Pay for Play” title, they do not turn student-athletes into employees. Direct university to student-athlete compensation is a far greater extension of the debate that is not currently being addressed.

Representatives Dan Miller and Ed Gainey are sponsoring the Pennsylvania version of the bill that has yet to be introduced. The bill would similarly allow college athletes to profit from their name and image. The duo has expressed support for the effort made by Governor Gavin Newsom of California.

These laws come with incredible resistance from the NCAA.

As the governing body of college athletics across all 50 states, when states impose different guidelines, the NCAA's enforcement of these rules becomes very complicated.

“The NCAA exists to provide fair competition across all schools in terms of rules. So we couldn’t have different rules in different states. I don’t see state legislation really proceeding very far,” Ivy League Executive Director Robin Harris said. “So many states are talking about it. It’s unlikely that they will go into effect. It becomes untenable to have any sort of national structure if you have different states with different rules.”

New York Senator Kevin Parker has proposed the New York Collegiate Athletic Participation Compensation Act, which would require universities to share 15% of athletic department revenues with student-athletes, in addition to giving them the rights to their name, image, and likeness.

While the NCAA continues to express opposition to these state bills, if Congress were able to pass a similar bill on the federal level, the NCAA might be more hard-pressed to respond. Anthony Gonzalez, a House Republican from Ohio, has proposed just that. A former Ohio State football player himself, Gonzalez has announced a plan to introduce a federal version of these NIL bills on the House floor.

In May, the NCAA announced the formation of a working group with the intention of examining issues related to NIL legislation. In a press release from the NCAA, the organization promised to release a final report in October outlining conclusions made by the working group over the course of the investigation.

While Gonzalez will wait to propose his bill until the NCAA releases its final report, many states clearly do not feel the same willingness to wait for the NCAA to catch up.

In the ongoing athlete name, image, and likeness conversation, the Ivy League is further off from a change than initially apparent. While the NCAA could theoretically change the rules, the Ivy League would then have to evaluate whether or not these changes are something that it would even considering adopting.

“Student-athletes are not allowed to receive compensation for their own athletic ability. [For] any change that the NCAA might make, we would have to evaluate as to whether or not we want to adopt that,” Harris said.

The process of changing rules about student-athlete compensation is something that Ivy League schools take very seriously, given the emphasis that these schools place on equality of the student-athlete experience. While athletic directors and certain personnel from the Ivy League office are involved in consulting on the decision, in the end, the presidents of each respective institution would confer to decide on any proposed changes. 

Generally, athletic directors seem unimpressed by the impending state laws. 

“These bills create complicated situations because there’s more nuance than the public understands generally. How’s the broader public going to determine what that fair market value is? And then how do we make sure that that’s really based on fair market value? It starts to get very complicated and then gender equity and Title IX come into play,” Harris said.

For the most part, it seems that the failure to allow athletes to profit from their own likeness has been the result of definitory challenges. Regulating gender implications and defining market value are just two challenges that the NCAA have cited as hurdles to rule revision.

“You could see where there would be a bidding war between Auburn and Alabama boosters, for example, to pay the quarterback more than the other school,” Harris said.

Rachel Hiller, the Director of Compliance for Penn Athletics, declined to be interviewed. In a statement she issued about the NIL debate, she expressed her doubts about the statewide coherence of NIL legislation.

“If you want to continue to be a student-athlete, then you must make that choice,” Crispin wrote.

Regardless of the obstacles involving redefining policy, it is the role of the NCAA to protect student-athletes nationally. Issues arise when in its effort to do so, the association allows university athletic departments to profit at the expense of student-athletes without letting them profit off their own accord. 

Unless change happens quickly, and at a federal level, individual states might not be able to compel the NCAA to depart from their current policy. Student-athletes, then, would continue to be forced to choose between profiting from their skills and likeness or dedicating themselves to excellence in athletics with their university.

In that regard, for Penn athletes, change seems unlikely. At least in the near future. 

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