Other Opinion: Pay athletes? A radical, but proper, plan


Should a UND hockey player be allowed to openly promote a Grand Forks pizza joint and be paid for that work?

What about selling his autograph? Or signing memorabilia for money at a downtown bar?

Today, it is a violation of NCAA policy, and the player would lose his eligibility. But someday – possibly not far down the road – it could be a reality, and it would change college sports as we know it.

Earlier this week, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed what is being called the Fair Pay to Play Act, which would allow NCAA athletes to make endorsement deals and earn money off their likeness. Officially, the measure is California Senate Bill 206, and it would keep the NCAA – the governing body that oversees the most lucrative college sports – from banning players from being compensated for use of their image or name, beginning in 2023. It was signed amid pomp on a television program featuring NBA star LeBron James.

It's a sea change, no doubt. But considering the great financial juggernaut the NCAA has become, it might not be such a bad idea.


In the 2017 fiscal year, the nonprofit NCAA brought in nearly $1.1 billion, according to a report by USA Today. That year, it had $956 million in expenses, roughly half of which was made in distribution to Division I member schools. All told, NCAA universities collectively receive more than $14 billion annually from sports.

Most players, meanwhile, receive scholarships to pay for school, but they do not receive any monetary compensation for the efforts they make that can help bring millions of dollars in revenue to their school. Training is rigorous for Division I athletes, and their schedules are further hindered by constant travel, sometimes for five months of the year. Students on academic scholarships do not bear such burdens and are allowed to make extra money in side jobs.

The jerseys of the most famous college athletes might be worth hundreds of dollars in a pro shop, but the athlete receives none of that revenue.

In college basketball, the NCAA Tournament is a financial juggernaut for the NCAA, for TV networks and for the schools themselves, but again, players aren’t compensated for doing the actual work that produces those dollars. In the case of basketball, an agreement signed in 2006 means players cannot move directly from high school to the NBA, further hindering their earning ability.

And with women athletes, their fame usually peaks at the college level. Why not allow these young women an opportunity to earn money off that short-lived notoriety?

Even Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, according to the Star Tribune, is “willing to look at” legislation that would allow college athletes to earn money off endorsements

Don’t expect these ideas to go into effect anytime soon. The NCAA is against SB 206, saying it will erase the line between amateur and professional athletes while giving certain schools an unfair recruiting advantage.

Will athletes truly be able to earn money off their fame by 2023? We doubt it will happen by then, but we do not doubt that eventually, SB 206 – or proposals similar to it – will change the landscape of big-college athletics.

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