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Proposal would loosen college amateur status

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Members of the UNM football team arrive at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana, last month. A legislative proposal would allow college athletes to be paid for endorsements. (UNM Athletics photo)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – New Mexico would allow college athletes to make money from endorsement deals and sponsorships under a legislative proposal state Sen. Mark Moores plans to introduce next year – following the lead of California and challenging the NCAA.

Moores, an Albuquerque Republican and former college football player, said he knows firsthand how difficult it can be as a student-athlete constrained by regulations that require athletes to maintain status as amateurs.

An an offensive tackle for the University of New Mexico, Moores said, he had a scholarship but no extra money to go on dates or eat at restaurants.

“It’s a fairness issue,” Moores said in an interview. “I believe the athletes should have the opportunity to benefit from the fruits of their labor.”

He said he envisions something similar to the first-in-the-nation law passed by California this year.

Moores said he wants college athletes to be able to make money through endorsements and similar activities and to be able to accept equipment from sponsors, among other changes.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association opposed the California law and said it would erase the distinction between amateur college players and professional athletes. The association also said the issue should be handled at the national level, not through a patchwork of state laws.

Opponents of the California legislation say some college athletes already benefit from full or partial scholarships covering their tuition.

Eddie Nuñez, UNM director of athletics, said Wednesday that an NCAA working group is researching how to handle the issue and advise schools.

“We, as a state, have to prepare ourselves, because it is going to happen,” Nuñez said. “We just have to figure out how to make it as equal as possible.”

Action by the NCAA, he said, would ensure schools are playing by the same rules.

“Ultimately, to have every state do something isn’t the right answer,” Nuñez said.

Mario Moccia, director of athletics at New Mexico State University, said he had a lot of questions about how the state legislation would work and be enforced.

“We’re certainly aware of it as it’s been a national discussion,” he said, “but there are still a lot of questions about this before we know for sure how it’s all going to play out.”

It isn’t clear whether Moores’ proposal will gain traction next year.

The 30-day legislative session that starts in January is generally limited to consideration of the budget and similar legislation.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, however, is empowered to add other topics or bills to the agenda in a 30-day session.

Her office didn’t commit one way or another on the bill.

“The governor’s view on this is that it seems like a move in the right direction and as such is worthy of discussion – but, of course, it could present new challenges, and the 30-day is already going to be very tight,” Lujan Grisham spokesman Tripp Stelnicki said.

Supporters of the California legislation say it would allow college athletes to share in the money they make for schools.

Moores said he hopes to win bipartisan support for the idea in New Mexico. Democrats hold majorities in both legislative chambers, and Lujan Grisham is a Democrat.

Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said he thinks the Legislature would pass a bill similar to the California law if the state’s two Division I schools – UNM and NMSU – were on board.

“College football is a multibillion-dollar industry in this country, and not a single dime goes to the players,” Maestas said. “At the least they should be able to market themselves.”

Under the California law, student-athletes won’t draw salaries from their schools. But they could profit from endorsements and sponsorships.

The California legislation doesn’t take effect until 2023.

Paul Weir, Lobo men’s basketball coach, said last month – before the California bill was signed – that players should be compensated.

“I think there’s a lot of people clinging to this old nostalgic notion of college sports that is evaporating before our eyes,” Weir said, “and I think we at least need to acknowledge those conversations, have those conversations. Wherever they happen to lead, I don’t know.

“I’m not sitting here saying what that means, what players should get or not get, but I do think those are open and honest conversations we should be having.”

Journal Capitol Bureau Chief Dan Boyd contributed to this article.

 

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