By Ken Reed
A few weeks back, Duke’s star basketball player, Zion Williamson, blew out his Nike sneaker in a game against his school’s arch rival, the University of North Carolina.
The high profile shoe malfunction stirred the debate once again over what is fair compensation for college athletes that help bring in millions of dollars to their schools.
Should Williamson be happy with his college scholarship? Or should he be compensated closer to his market worth?
Nancy Skinner, Democrat majority whip of the California state Senate thinks the answer should be the latter. As such, she has introduced Senate Bill 206, also known as the Fair Pay to Play Act, in the California State Legislature. Under SB 206, college athletes would be allowed to receive compensation in a way that’s similar to what Olympic athletes can receive. In other words, college athletes would be allowed to ink corporate sponsorship and endorsement deals. One estimate of a shoe deal for Williamson is $10.5 million a year.
Williamson suffered a sprained knee when his shoe gave way but it could’ve been much worse. A torn ACL would likely have lessened his value in the eyes of NBA scouts and general managers. An even more devastating injury might have cost him his basketball career.
“The Williamson case highlights just how unfair the system is,” said Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association (NCPA).
“Players are forced into a system in which they play for essentially no compensation, but they risk injury that could seriously impact their future.”
Most of the focus of the “Should College Athletes Be Paid?” debate has centered around big-time college football and basketball players. But elite athletes in the so-called “minor” sports can be impacted too. Four-time gold medalist winner Missy Franklin chose to swim for the Cal-Berkeley swim team instead of turning pro after her Olympic heroics. While at Cal she suffered back problems and never regained her top form. Because she couldn’t take a corporate sponsorship deal while at Cal she lost a lot of money that sponsors would’ve been willing to pay her at her peak.
Last week, in a mixed ruling, a federal judge, Claudia Wilken determined that amateurism rules barring payment beyond scholarships and basic costs of education violate antitrust law. However, elsewhere in her ruling, she wrote that while NCAA athletes should be allowed to receive more compensation, it should be limited to benefits “related to education,” e.g., postgraduate scholarships, tutoring, study abroad, etc.
Why does this whole issue have to be so complicated? The Olympic model is the quickest and easiest way to more fairly compensate college athletes.
Admittedly, developing a system in which athletes are put on a university’s payroll (and all that would likely entail, e.g., worker’s compensation, player unions, etc.) would be a complex endeavor. But allowing athletes to be paid by a sponsor to appear in an ad campaign or simply sign autographs at a local auto dealer for a couple hours is pretty straightforward. It would simply allow college athletes to benefit from their own names and likenesses, just like every other American.
The NCAA’s antiquated amateurism model is dying, but it’s a very slow death. At least the wheel is spinning toward economic justice.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of FansPrint
- “Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Ken Reed's Author Page on Amazon
- League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
A League of Fans Special Report