Gophers offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca had to backtrack when praising receiver Chris Autman-Bell for his overtime-forcing catch against Fresno State in Week 2.

“It was really rewarding for me to see him get paid, you know … rewarded,” Ciarrocca said, correcting himself. “I guess I shouldn’t use the word ‘paid.’ Get rewarded for the work that he’s put in.”

Ciarrocca smiled at his inadvertent joke, knowing a hot-button issue across college sports is the question of whether athletes should earn compensation. That conversation has recently come to the forefront again, with California’s Fair Pay to Play Act. The act passed unanimously through the state Senate last week and would allow California college athletes to earn money from endorsement deals, autograph sessions and the like. It would not make the athletes paid employees of their schools.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has been on the clock to sign this into law within 30 days, which would take effect in 2023. New York state Sen. Kevin Parker proposed a similar bill this week with an amendment that would make schools pay athletes 15% of their athletic department revenue.

Several voices around college football and college sports in general have voiced their opinions.

NBA star LeBron James tweeted his support earlier this month, saying the California act was “only right” and “waaaayy overdue.”

“This law is a GAME CHANGER,” James wrote. “College athletes can responsibly get paid for what they do and the billions they create.”

The NCAA doesn’t agree. The organization sent a letter to Newsom urging him to veto.

“If the bill becomes law and California’s 58 NCAA schools are compelled to allow an unrestricted name, image and likeness scheme, it would erase the critical distinction between college and professional athletics,” the letter read, according to the Los Angeles Times, “and, because it gives those schools an unfair recruiting advantage, would result in them eventually being unable to compete in NCAA competitions.”

Former Florida and NFL quarterback Tim Tebow shared his view on ESPN’s “First Take,” saying he never wanted to make money as a college athlete because being a part of the team and tradition were more important than individual gain.

“It changes what’s special about college football,” Tebow said. “We turn it into the NFL, where who has the most money, that’s where you go.”

There’s a similar argument about the transfer portal and allowing some players to bypass having to sit out a season. Many college football coaches have warned of college football becoming a free-agent market, like in professional sports.

Washington State football coach Mike Leach told reporters that the potential for this rule to create a recruiting imbalance could “destroy” college football.

“If you can do stuff like [make money off your name], surely if you don’t like the way a guy’s portraying something, you should be able to cut him on the spot,” Leach told reporters. “… Then are we going to have a draft? Then are we going to have trading? Then are we going to have free agency? I mean, how far does all this stuff go?”

Leach suggested maybe implementing minor league football for athletes interested in earning money sooner than a potential NFL career. But he also suggested California lawmakers focus on “keeping their streets clean” before wading into college football.


Megan Ryan covers the Gophers and college football for the Star Tribune. Twitter: @theothermegryan E-mail: