University Presidents Call New Student Athlete Pay Law a ‘Crisis’

John DeGioia, president of Georgetown University, Springfield College president Mary-Beth Cooper, Daemen College president Gary Olson and NCAA Chief Operating Officer Donald Remy discuss student athletes earning compensation in light of a new California law. (Nathan Solis/CNS)

ANAHEIM, Calif. (CN) – Less than three months after California passed a landmark law that will allow college athletes to earn money from the commercial use of their likeness, the National Collegiate Athletic Association held its annual convention in the Golden State Thursday to address the elephant in the room.

University presidents at the NCAA convention likened the situation to a “crisis” and a learning experience during a panel discussion on the issue of name, image and likeness for college athletes.

Signed into law last September, California’s “Fair Pay to Play Act” goes into effect in 2023 and will open the door for college athletes to be legally compensated for the commercial use of their images through sponsorship deals and other benefits.

Several other states have signaled they could sign similar laws, which would create a series of different laws across the country, said Georgetown University President John DeGioia.

“It’s going to be impossible to do this with a patchwork of state laws. We’re going to need some type of federal legislation that would enable us to provide the framework for a national organization,” said DeGioia, also a member of an NCAA Division I committee of academics.

Mary-Beth Cooper, president of Springfield College in Massachusetts which has been called the birthplace of basketball, said the issue of student athletes earning compensation is not limited to the top performing athletes, but it’s much more complex.

Another panel discussion delved into what it means for a student athlete to earn money as an online influencer, as someone who develops a large online following on social media. The university presidents said their institutions and the rules that bind the collegiate experience will need to be updated if they’re going to address California’s new law and online influencers.

DiGioia joked, “That scene in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ – we’re making this up as we go along. We’re old institutions that have a set of policies, some of which are part of the regulatory framework we operate in, others have more to do with the unique history, culture, tradition of our institutions.”

Gary Olson, president of Daemen College in New York, said the name, image and likeness is a whole new economy that didn’t exist when these institutional rules were put in place, but were meant to keep money from corrupting student athletes.

He called the issue before the NCAA an “existential threat” to the collegiate model established by the organization. Olson asked if a university in California or another state who adopts a similar law on its books would be eligible to participate in a national championship.

The panel agreed that the collegiate industry will need to lobby the U.S. Congress in the coming year, but did not provide many details on how the NCAA will be involved.

Attorney Alan Milstein, who has represented athletes in civil court, said in phone interview that the NCAA will need to stop “nickel and diming” student players for just trying to live like other students at their school.

Milstein said the current California law will not work within the existing NCAA structure.

“I think the NCAA will have to meet with the players, schools to come up with a nationwide solution. As if it’s a union, just like the way the NFL or NBA work with the group of team owners. There needs to be student representatives,” Milstein said. “It’s the best way to handle this situation to make it fair and just.”

The law will pry open the NCAA’s purse strings to student athletes as money generated from TV rights, ticket and merchandise sales will unavoidably change the fabric of college sports. For many critics, the law corrects an exploitation of young athletes.

Warren Zola, executive director of the Boston College Chief Executives Club and professor of sports law at Boston College, says the NCAA doesn’t have a lot of choice in the matter on whether or not it will adapt as an organization.

“The NCAA can’t toss schools from California and Florida out,” Zola said in an email. “The NCAA rebelled against Title IX after Cohen v Brown was decided in 1995. They didn’t think football should be included in the analysis. The courts and federal government said ‘too bad.’”

“College sports now generates billions of dollars of revenue and everyone is making money off of the system from the NCAA, to conferences, schools, sponsors and coaches with one major exception – the labor creating the demand,” Zola said.

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