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Editorial: If NCAA wants a say in college pay-for-play, time to tap in

Now that California is kick-starting the college athlete pay-for-play machine, can anyone really blame New Mexico (or other states for that matter) for wanting to follow suit?

When California’s governor signed off on allowing college athletes to hire agents and accept endorsement deals – in opposition of the NCAA’s continued posture of devotion to its players’ amateur status – it only made sense for other states to start to fall in line.

After all, the rest of the country can’t just roll over while California schools snap up the best recruits, lured by the promise of sponsorships that up till now have been reserved for professional athletes.

It’s a move a long time in the making – the grumbling about how college athletes never see a dime of the money they rake in for their universities (even as coaches’ salaries become more and more exorbitant) – has been around for years.

Those complaints have merit, though many would remind you colleges often already foot the bill for their athletes’ tuition, books, room, board and travel – while at the same time offering an education, exposure in their sport and access to a post-sports job network.

It’s true those are valuable benefits, but they are minimal when compared to the millions of dollars some marquee athletes can bring to a university’s budget. And with the NCAA sticking to such rigid rules, it’s becoming apparent that many athletes are bending – if not breaking – those rules anyway.

But against the backdrop of California, the question that now looms is: does the U.S. really need two, three or 50 different versions of pay-for-play? As many have pointed out, a true fix should come from the NCAA. It would be much better to have the overarching organization set the ground rules than let states craft a patchwork system that by design sets up an unlevel playing field.

That said, some overarching concerns should be taken into consideration regardless of whether the NCAA acts or lets itself be undermined as one state after another takes California’s lead.

For example, college athletic programs as a whole most likely will suffer as a result of sponsorship funds being siphoned away from their budgets. Clearly, some boosters will become more interested in funneling their dollars to an individual athlete rather than a program as a whole. The superstar’s teammates – along with most athletes who play any sport besides men’s football and basketball – will be left out of the sponsorship/funder gift giving. And less booster money coming to the school means a drop in scholarships and other funding that benefits the rest of the student athletes.

Then there are the nitty gritty details. Will student athletes be allowed to endorse products on their uniforms or school gear? Will they be allowed to pick up sponsorships from companies that compete with sponsors of their university? Or of their teammates?

It’s a complicated topic, one that will get more so as more states try to solve it individually.

There’s a growing sentiment that the NCAA dropped the ball by clinging to the somewhat quaint, antiquated notion of amateurism.

Its officials should move quickly to craft reasonable pay-for-play rules, or they will be relegated to the stands.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.


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