When California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the Fair Pay to Play Act on Sept. 11, he set off a chain of events that will likely have a ripple effect across the greater part of the United States.
The ground-breaking, yet complex bill passed in California does not give universities the right to provide compensation to its student athletes, contrary to popular belief.
The law, which will not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2023 (allowing current student-athletes enough time to cycle through the system), blocks schools in California from denying student athletes the opportunity to profit off their name, likeness or image. Under the law, student athletes will have the right to hire agents while at school.
In relation to Slippery Rock University, SRU Athletic Director Paul Lueken does not envision the bill having much of an impact, if at all, at the university.
“We at Slippery Rock don’t use student athlete likenesses to profit at all,” Lueken said. “We sell the total program, and I think most universities, even the Division I, do the same.”
According to Lueken, only a few players in Division I athletics, most likely just in football or basketball, would be able to take advantage of the opportunity to profit off their likeness.
However, there are glaring outliers who break the mold in regard to “student” athletes who aren’t arguably bigger than the university itself.
A student athlete like Zion Williamson, at Duke last season, whose presence on the team pushed the demand for Duke basketball tickets to an all-time high. Research from Adam Zagoria of Forbes showed the ticket prices of Duke’s games against other ACC teams tripled or quadrupled in most cases.
In the case of two games against archrival North Carolina, it was the most drastic. In all other games that season, UNC ticket prices averaged $71. In two games against Duke, the price skyrocketed to $991.
In other cases, it’s potential student athletes who avoid the NCAA because they disagree with the college athletics chief governing body. Hello, LeBron James.
In an interview with reporters at a Lakers’ practice, written about by Ben Golliver of The Washington Post, James reflected on the decision not to attend Ohio State. The decision was a direct result of the limitations placed on student athletes by the NCAA.
“That No. 23 jersey would have gotten sold all over the place without my name on the back, but everybody would have known the likeness. My body would have been on the 2004 NCAA basketball video game. And the Schottenstein Center would have been sold out every single night if I was there. Me and my mom, we didn’t have anything. We wouldn’t have been able to benefit at all from it. The university would have been able to capitalize on everything,” James said.
James, who jumped immediately into the NBA following high school, was a forerunner in players avoiding the NCAA in order to receive compensation for their play at a higher level. This year alone, prominent college prospects LaMelo Ball and RJ Hampton, five-star prospects, skipped playing in college in order to play professionally in Australia.
While players avoiding the NCAA in college football have not experienced the same propensity, certain players at major Power 5 schools would potentially be able to benefit from their name, image or likenesses.
Although Lueken expects the opportunity for student athletes at the Division I level to be limited, even in Power 5 conferences.
“I’m not for it… that way,” Lueken said. “I think there’s going to be a real limit to the number of student-athletes who will be able to do that. Those student-athletes will have their chances to make their money in professional sports anyway.”
Lueken continued by touching on how unlike at the Division II level, Division I programs building multi-million dollar facilities where student-athletes are able to hang out, sleep, eat, play video games, watch movies, get their hair cut and so much more. A lot of money from donors and sponsors goes directly into providing amenities and opportunities for student-athletes.
“Being a Power 5 athlete is totally different than being an athlete at Slippery Rock. Those folks don’t want for a whole lot. You read now how Division I schools build these massive complexes just for the student athletes to hang out in. That’s a totally different game than what we’ve got,” Lueken said.
At the Division II level, the athletic experience is very different, for obvious reasons. Slippery Rock does not receive hundreds of millions of dollars from alumni and corporate sponsors. The level of competition is lower and the exposure is far less than the Division I level.
Despite being a Harlon Hill Award (best player in Division II football) candidate, Lueken expressed doubt regarding star quarterback Roland Rivers III being well known even in Slippery Rock. It wasn’t a knock against the successful football team or its star player, just a reality of Division II football.
Lueken did acknowledge that if a student athlete from SRU would be able to benefit from their name, image or likeness, it would likely be Rivers, but the compensation he would receive would likely come in alternative routes.
“That would be between that student athlete and that business in some sort of way,” Lueken said. “A lot of this will probably be through in-kind things. So, maybe one of our student athletes is the spokesperson for Domino’s pizza. Maybe his pay is he gets free pizza once in a while. It probably wouldn’t be as much money as it is in-kind services.”
According to Lueken, though, the future for SRU lies in corporate sponsors. The way it’s been for as long as he’s been around. The money from the great contributions of numerous local and national corporate sponsors goes into the student athlete scholarship fund, he said.
While the new bill will likely have a minimal effect on SRU, Lueken still feels as though there are better ways to reach the desired goal other than Fair Pay to Play.
“I’m all for folks being able to gain an advantage from their likeness if companies want to use it, but I think there are better vehicles to do that,” Lueken said. “My thought is, ‘how does that law benefit 95% of the student athletes that are playing sports that aren’t football or basketball?’ Those student athletes are working just as hard, putting in just as many hours and winning just as many awards and championships for their school as the football and basketball teams. There has got to be a different way.”
Along with the potential compensation opportunities likely being limited to just the football and basketball stars, if that, Lueken alluded to the bigger picture of state and national level complications with the bill.
“It can’t be done state by state because the NCAA is a national organization, so it can’t be done in every state,” Lueken said.
With only California having passed the bill so far, the NCAA has a realistic chance to simply annex California and cut all of those schools out of the NCAA. Once more teams start passing bills matching that of California’s, the NCAA will be faced with an even bigger decision.
Michael McCann from Sports Illustrated expertly broke down the entire situation and the potential for chaos in the NCAA. According to McCann, the very fabric of the college athletics in the NCAA may be changing.
But it likely won’t affect SRU too much.