These State Lawmakers Want College Athletes to Get Paid

By: - April 26, 2019 12:00 am

Gerry Broome/Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

When Duke basketball star Zion Williamson grabbed his knee and crashed to the floor during a game in the runup to the NCAA “March Madness” tournament, shredding his signature Nike shoe, many fans had two thoughts: 1. Is he OK? 2. Is an injury going to hurt his ability to turn pro and make money?

The second thought came because while he was wearing Nikes, and the shoe company paid a lot of money to Duke University for the right to outfit the players, Williamson was prohibited from taking any compensation for wearing the shoes — or for anything else.

NCAA regulations strictly prohibit remuneration for any activity by any student-athletes — including endorsements, appearances and advertisements — beyond scholarships, to retain their amateur status.

But the no-pay rule has become increasingly unpopular. Now lawmakers in a handful of states want to allow college athletes to be paid, if not directly in a salary, then by allowing compensation for the use of their image, likeness or name.

Some bills would allow the players to join a union and collectively bargain for remuneration. Others would allow them to qualify for worker’s compensation in the event of an injury. All are aimed at cutting the players in on a system that pays coaches millions and earns multimillions for the colleges and universities.

Bills are under consideration in Duke’s home state of North Carolina, along with California, Washington state and Colorado. In Maryland, a bill had a committee hearing but was not voted on by the panel and died last month, at the end of this year’s session. The U.S. Congress also has legislation in the works that would allow compensation for student-athletes.

“There’s a little movement right now, because I think the people have been struck by the immorality of having college coaches earn multimillion dollar salaries off the backs and from the blood of young men, many of whom are mere teenagers, who are not being compensated anywhere near fairly,” said Kevin Blackistone, a journalism professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, and a regular panelist on ESPN’s “Around the Horn” talk show.

The high salaries and high profits for the colleges come in the two revenue-producing sports, men’s football and basketball, particularly at the Division I level, which includes large schools.

“There have been stories about football players who haven’t been able to find enough to eat, football or basketball players finding themselves living a homeless life,” Blackistone said, “and the coaches and universities for whom they toil are raking in tens of millions of dollars. I think it finally struck a chord.”

Under NCAA rules, college athletes, no matter what division they play in or whether they have scholarships, are not allowed to take money for appearances or to be paid for advertisements that trade on their athletic skill. If they establish a business, they cannot use their athletic uniforms or connection to sports for the business.

They are not allowed to accept free stuff from college boosters, and their relationship to sports agents is tightly controlled by the NCAA and cannot involve payments to players or their families.

In recent years, the NCAA has loosened up on rules for athletes to permit them to have stipends that can pay for academic-related supplies, transportation and food not included in the college meal plan. Scholarships for some top athletes pay for tuition, fees, books, and room and board.

The NCAA is charged with protecting the integrity of sports on college campuses, and it views the restrictions on payments as a way to nip efforts by outsiders to unduly influence players.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Education that was compiled by USA Today, the 231 NCAA Division I schools with data available generated .15 billion in revenue during fiscal 2015. And coaches make millions.

Kentucky basketball’s John Calipari is the highest-paid college coach in the United States at .2 million a year, according to USA Today. In many states, public universities’ coaches are the highest-paid state employees. Calipari is also the top public earner in Kentucky: He is paid more than 60 times as much as the state’s governor, Matt Bevin, who makes about ,000 a year.

According to ESPN, in 2017 the highest-paid state employees in 39 states coached either football (31 states) or men’s basketball (eight states).

For lawmakers responsible for state budgets, that disparity stands out in a huge way.

“Public universities, at the end of the day, should be looking out for the interest of their students, more than the interests of the NCAA,” said Maryland Del. Brooke Lierman, a Democrat from Baltimore who sponsored a bill that would have allowed the student-athletes to collectively bargain over scholarship terms, health insurance and pay for appearances.

She said in an interview that the death of Jordan McNair, a University of Maryland football player who collapsed from heat stroke at practice last summer and died, sparked her to act.

“State legislatures charter and have control over the public universities,” she said. “If schools themselves feel they can’t stand up to the NCAA, then legislatures have to do it.”

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Elaine S. Povich
Elaine S. Povich

Elaine S. Povich covers consumer affairs for Stateline. Povich has reported for Newsday, the Chicago Tribune and United Press International.