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A piece of the college sports pie

Education | California passes law requiring schools to allow payments to student-athletes
by Kyle Ziemnick
Posted 10/02/19, 03:38 pm

Student-athletes who already receive substantial college scholarships could also profit from endorsement deals under a new California law that has the potential to remake college sports.

The NCAA, the national governing body for college sports, has strict rules to keep amateur college athletics from becoming professional sports. Because of those rules, NBA superstar LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers skipped college and signed a professional contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers right out of high school in 2003.

“Part of the reason I went to the NBA was to get my mom out of the situation she was in,” James said this week on the set of his HBO talk show, The Shop. “I couldn’t have done that in college with the current rules in place.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, appeared with James and signed the bill Friday while the cameras rolled. The governor’s office announced the law’s approval on Monday.

The Fair Pay to Play Act is set to take effect in 2023. It will let college athletes hire agents and sign sponsorship deals by blocking the NCAA from punishing student-athletes for getting paid by companies that use the athletes’ name, image, or likeness.

The NCAA has never allowed student-athletes to receive payment for the promotional use of their names and faces. In 2009, former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon filed an antitrust lawsuit with other former players against the NCAA and Electronic Arts for the unauthorized use of their likenesses in college basketball video games even after they graduated. The players won the case, but the NCAA made minimal changes as a result. EA stopped making college sports games in 2014.

Supporters of the Fair Pay to Play Act argue students should be allowed to receive sponsorship deals in part because schools and the NCAA profit so much from their hard work. More than half of Division I schools make $20 million a year or more from college athletics, according to Business Insider. Data compiled by USA Today show the top 10 percent of earners in Division I each make $100 million or more annually.

Newsom said he hoped other states would follow California’s lead. New York and South Carolina have already proposed similar bills. But it would take more states joining in to pressure the NCAA to change its rules.

The NCAA Board of Governors attacked the bill in a letter last month, pointing out the “unfair recruiting advantage” it would give California schools and implying those schools could become ineligible for NCAA competition. Massive programs such as UCLA, the University of Southern California, Stanford University, and the University of California, Berkeley, could face tough choices about whether to break away from the NCAA to form a new governing body.

Opponents of letting college athletes sign endorsement deals say the scholarships they receive and the chance to play on the national stage are compensation enough. Many young, talented athletes who might not otherwise have the opportunity to earn a four-year degree get full rides or significant discounts because of their participation in college sports.

Critics also worry about equity. Companies like Nike, Under Armour, and Adidas would not sign agreements with every college athlete in the country. Only a few stars would get sponsorship deals, and many talented student-athletes would play for their colleges without ever having a chance to earn money for their work—the very problem California is trying to solve.

The conflict over player pay threatens the already tenuous relationship between the NCAA and the education system. The NCAA is rife with scandals—from players and coaches accepting bribes to schools enrolling athletes in non-existent classes. With the introduction of a new incentive—financial gain—the lack of academic commitment from some college stars may increase even more.

An NCAA working group is expected to report on possible name, image and likeness rights for student-athletes this month. Most expect the organization to fight the law—not just to keep college sports amateur, but also to maintain control over the system. That means more and more top-level athletes might skip college altogether as James did.

Ramogi Huma, the executive director of the advocacy group National College Players Association, said of the California law, “The NCAA will get on board or be plunged into irrelevance.”

Associated Press/Photo by Charles Krupa Associated Press/Photo by Charles Krupa Stephen Semprevivo leaves federal court in Boston after his sentencing hearing Thursday.

Doing time

A federal judge sentenced Los Angeles businessman Stephen Semprevivo to four months in prison last week for his part in this year’s massive college admissions scandal. Semprevivo pleaded guilty in May to fraud and conspiracy for shelling out $400,000 to the scandal’s mastermind, William “Rick” Singer in 2016. In return, Singer secured a spot at Georgetown University for Semprevivo’s son as a tennis recruit even though the young man did not play the sport.

Semprevivo offered a tearful courtroom apology, saying he took full responsibility for his actions and deserved punishment. In a letter sent in August to the court, Semprevivo described how foolish ambition for his son’s happiness drove him. “Looking back, I can see that Rick Singer worked me over and got me to do and believe things I am ashamed of and deeply regret,” he wrote. “I wanted the future for my son that he had worked so hard for. This was the main factor in my bad judgment.”

Semprevivo was the third parent sentenced to jail time in the scandal. Former Desperate Housewives actress Felicity Huffman received the lightest sentence so far at just 14 days, while Semprevivo and fellow California businessman Devin Sloane got four months. All three offenders owe fines and community service hours, as well. More sentencings are scheduled in the coming months. Of the 33 parents charged in the scheme, 14 have pleaded guilty and 19—including former Full House actress Lori Loughlin—are fighting the charges. —Laura Edghill

Associated Press/Photo by Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times Associated Press/Photo by Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times A rally at the Chicago Teachers Union headquarters on Sept. 24

Teachers ready to walk out

Chicago teachers voted last week to strike over a dispute that has simmered since their last contract expired in June. An overwhelming majority of Chicago Teachers Union members approved the action, leaving the nation’s third-largest school district poised for a potential work stoppage as soon as Monday.

The union claims that years of tight budgets have led to overcrowded classrooms and critical staffing shortages.

“Our school communities are desperately short of nurses, social workers, psychologists, counselors, and other support staff, even as our students struggle with high levels of trauma driven by poverty and neighborhood violence,” union President Jesse Sharkey said. “This vote represents a true mandate for change.”

Chicago Public Schools officials said the union walked away from an offer of a 16 percent pay raise over five years.

The dispute marks one of the first major leadership tests for Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot in her first year in office. The Democrat accused the union of ignoring what she considered as fair offers from the school district.

Chicago Public Schools employees last went on strike seven years ago. The walkout lasted seven days before union officials and then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel struck a deal.

Meanwhile, the nearly 400,000 students who attend public schools in Chicago are braced for the potential disruption a strike will bring, including lost learning, missed meals, and disrupted family schedules. —L.E.

Poor taste

Fashion brand Bstroy incited a social media frenzy last month when it posted photos on Instagram of a line of hoodies with the names of four schools where some of the nation’s deadliest mass shootings took place. The designers printed “Columbine,” “Sandy Hook,” “Stoneman Douglas,” and “Virginia Tech” on the sweatshirts, which appeared punctured with bullet holes.

Bstroy co-founder Dieter Grams explained the company did not intend the clothing for retail sales but rather as an artistic expression to bring attention to gun violence.

“We make very niche art shows; we had no idea this was going to be publicized the way it was,” he said. “We had no idea we were going to get this kind of attention.”

But parents did not buy the defense.

“The fact that a designer would seek to profit by glamorizing the school violence that killed our children, Dylan and Daniel, and the deaths of so many more, is repugnant and deeply upsetting,” said Nicole Hockley and Mark Barden, who both lost sons in the 2012 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., which led them to co-found Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit organization formed after the tragedy to combat gun violence.

Similarly, in 2014, Urban Outfitters claimed it had no idea its briefly sold “bloodied” Kent State University sweatshirt “allude(d) to the tragic events that took place at Kent State in 1970,” when the Ohio National Guard shot and killed four students during a protest on the campus in Kent, Ohio. —L.E.

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Kyle Ziemnick

Kyle is a WORLD Digital news reporter. He is a World Journalism Institute and Patrick Henry College graduate. Kyle resides in Purcellville, Va. Follow him on Twitter @kylezim25.

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  • DakotaLutheran
    Posted: Thu, 10/03/2019 08:39 am

    Allowing college atheletes to accept endorsements will benefit most those who don't need it. Only those atheletes who are likely to "go pro" will be able to benefit from the policy. Since these are exactly the ones who are most likely to receive substantial signing bonuses, whether they are successful pros or not, they are the ones who need it the least. These benefits will only accrue to atheletes in a few sports, notably football and basketball. This seems appropriate since it is in these sports that colleges reap the most financial benefit. It is unlikely that colleges will decide to get out of the business of promoting these lucrative activities, most especially football and basketball. Other college athletes who work just as hard and long receive no such concern by law makers. Already these athletes in the likes of basketball and football receive exaggerated attention on campuses. This law will only make the matter worse. What is more, I can't imagine what it will do to team cohesiveness, where one or two players on the team receive undo financial gain, while the remainder are ignored. 

  •  phillipW's picture
    Posted: Fri, 10/04/2019 01:00 pm

    What you are describing is a simple meritocracy.  The only difference between the system we have now and what California is pushing is that they will bring the under the table income to on the table, and therefore taxable.  In other words, this is purely another way for the state of California to gain tax revenue.  As always, with everything in life, simply follow the money.

    As far as team cohesiveness, I've played on team sports all the way from 9 years old until well into my time in the Marine Corps in my early 20's, and there wasn't a team I played on where you didn't know who the superstar was, who got all of the attention, recognition, and led the team.  As the guy who wasn't the superstar, I was happy to render praise and adulation to the best players on my teams, because I know that my success was directly tied to how well they played in games.  I wanted our team to win, and having the best players stand out, not only on the field, but off, was something I gladly contributed to, so that the end result was our success as a team.

    Honestly, how is this any different then a company making a product?  Top sales people are going to be compensated much more then the guy working the factory floor doing the same job day in and day out.  Sales always drives revenue, and without good sales people the company doesn't exist.  I've never felt disenfranchised because my company's sale force made 2x and sometimes 5x as much income as I did.  I only recognized it as the superstars of our company who enabled me to take home a paycheck.

    There are many hidden problems that will be exposed with this athlete compensation law, specifically a further separation of the "haves" and the "have nots".  But I think it's long overdue that someone with enough power challenge the stranglehold the NCAA has on revenue coming from athletics in college.  The difference here is that the NCAA holds no true power, because the athletes are the ones driving the money, and why shouldn't they be compensated according to their skill level.  And like was mentioned in this article, I wouldn't be surprised to see some conferences splinter off of this, and form their own leagues away from the NCAA.  Frankly, it's long overdue to separate the top 20 or 30 athletic programs from the 70 or 80 other schools that gravy train off of the success of the top 10 - 20% of schools in competition.  Because in the balance of things, there is no logical reason why the power 5 conferences (in football) should be supporting the other conferences where teams have inferior talent and competition level.  I say let the spintering commence and form separate leagues and conferences where those top 20 or so schools have their own league and compete only amongst themselves, leaving the other 80+ schools to figure it out for themselves in their own leagues.  Because honestly, I grow tired of certain top football colleges abusing smaller and weaker schools every September, all in the name of tuning up for a "victory" when all it really is is a glorified scrimmage against two teams that on paper, have no business being in the same league or class.

    Posted: Thu, 10/03/2019 12:41 pm

    Children being out and about during the TEACHER STRIKE could add problems to the hoodlum state. 

    I remember a very funny comedian on the Tonight Show talking about hoodlums. "You wanna talk about hoodlums, I'll show you hoodlums." (not an exact quote) I remember who said it. A comedian/actor from Chicago.  

    Parents who are on the "dole" should homeschool their children. Together they will learn. I did.