When California’s governor put pen to paper Monday on a law allowing athletes to make money from endorsement deals, it challenged the NCAA’s long-standing amateur model — threatening to shake the foundations of a multibillion-dollar business.
California’s Fair Play to Pay Act, which will take effect in 2023, passed unanimously. It took a state with 58 schools and thousands of NCAA athletes to flex enough muscle to give nine other states, including Minnesota, the confidence to announce plans to introduce similar legislation.
“It’s a pretty big deal that California did it first,” said Rep. Nolan West, a Republican from Blaine. He plans to introduce a similar bill in the Minnesota House in February, establishing monetary rights for athletes over name, image and likeness. “I could see the NCAA ignoring a smaller state or putting some real pressure on a smaller state for doing this, but California already in the works opens up tons of opportunities for other states like ours.”
Gov. Tim Walz voiced his support, too, saying he’s willing to look at similar legislation.
Meanwhile, coaches and athletes throughout Minnesota are bracing for changes to the NCAA amateurism model, with many believing those changes will be for the best.
“The NCAA wants this whole thing to go away and for the gravy train to go on as long as possible,” University of Minnesota Regent Michael Hsu said. “They should’ve addressed these issues a long time ago. … It’s unconstitutional to limit someone’s ability to make money off their name, image and likeness.”
Outgoing Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said this week that players making money off their likeness would probably be just 1% or 2% of 100,000 NCAA athletes. But that’s no small slice financially, considering the NCAA reeled in $1 billion in revenue last school year.
Gophers athletes, including those in volleyball and women’s basketball, are already featured on Twin Cities billboards, promoting their events.
But under the NCAA’s age-old amateurism rules, none of those athletes are compensated.
Former Olympic gold medalist and pro women’s hockey player Hannah Brandt supports college athletes getting compensated if they’re in a video game or have their numbers on jerseys being sold.
Still, the former Gophers standout is also afraid sports like hers could suffer.
“I wouldn’t want schools to then be making less and have to cut back their other nonrevenue sports,” Brandt said. “If this took that money away, and you have to cut women’s hockey, or you have to cut the swim and dive team, that would be hard to see.”
It remains to be seen how California’s new law, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, could affect recruiting.
The high school athletes picking colleges now could be walking into a whole new financial world.
“I think with colleges being able to pay athletes, athletes will for sure look at those schools first,” said Cretin-Derham Hall junior Matthew Gleason, who has committed to play hockey at Colorado College. “But at the end of the day an athlete is going to go to the school where he can excel both athletically and academically.”
Minnehaha Academy’s Kaden Johnson, Minnesota’s top senior football recruit who is being wooed by such schools as LSU, said, “I think it’s a great idea for athletes to get their names out and be able to receive money.”
“But I’m just grateful to be able to go to college for free,” he added.
Gophers men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino said there are enough major companies in town to potentially provide endorsement opportunities, and even persuade players to stay longer when leaning toward turning pro.
“We always tell local recruits we have a bunch of Fortune 500 companies,” Pitino said. “… I want to get to a point where you can be in college and embrace it and not be in a rush to go to the NBA. If you’re good enough, then you should go to the NBA. You’re getting millions and millions of dollars. But if there’s a difference between being in the G League or being in college, can we incentivize this thing to where it is these guys could stay?”
Pitino lost star guard Amir Coffey, who decided to forgo his senior year to pursue his NBA dream.
Coffey went undrafted but ended up signing a two-way contract with the Los Angeles Clippers, which will likely put him first in the NBA G League.
Coffey’s father, Richard, said allowing his son to make money off his image and likeness wouldn’t have kept him in college, but he understands why some underclassmen might stick around with that in mind.
“Some people need some money for themselves and for their families,” Richard Coffey said.
Former Gophers quarterback Mitch Leidner acknowledged that it would have been nice to get paid for endorsements in college.
“But how do you dictate who gets more money?” he said. “And in college, is it weird if your quarterback is making money and then maybe your No. 3 receiver doesn’t get a penny?”
It remains to be seen if the NCAA, California and other states can find the middle ground.
Trying to figure out how schools and athletes can both benefit and get a piece of the billion-dollar pie is the most complex issue at the collegiate level.
“Not entering the [pros] early and keeping them in our schools would honestly be good for schools, too,” said West, the legislator from Blaine. “We could keep those stars, keep people showing up for the games and keep people buying tickets. If they’re doing sponsorships, that reflects positively on the university as well.”
Staff writers David La Vaque, Jim Paulsen and Joe Christensen contributed to this report.