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Sports Authority

Capece: Fair Pay to Play Act has opened Pandora’s Box

| Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Last week, my colleague and classmate Ellen Geyer shared her thoughts on the recently passed Fair Pay to Play Act. While I understand Ellen’s point of view and very much respect her opinion, I respectfully disagree.

Allow me to preface my explanation with a brief anecdote. One of the most important moments that I can recall so far in my life was when my mother dragged six year old me to the elementary school around the corner from our house, took me by the hand, and led me to the middle of the dusty field behind the school. I wanted absolutely no part of pee wee soccer practice on that fall afternoon, but I soon grew to love the beautiful game, and continue to play to this day. But what if my mom had taken her tiny son to basketball practice instead of soccer practice? Like the amazing parent that she is, I’m sure she would have been trying to do what was best for her son, and she would have thought “Hey, if he’s good at this, some college is going to pay him a lot of money one day.” After getting blocked at the rim a half a dozen times, it’s not unreasonable to think that six year old Colin would have been so discouraged that he never would have played sports again.

My story summarizes the potential unintended consequences that California governor Gavin Newsom did not consider when he went on Lebron James’ “The Shop” to sign the Fair Pay to Play Act into law. The bill, which is scheduled to go into effect in 2023, would allow collegiate athletes in California to hire agents, sign endorsement deals and profit off of their image and likeness. While I believe the cause that the law is working towards is a noble one, I also believe it will establish a terrible precedent that no one could have foreseen.

Do I believe that it is completely unfair that collegiate athletes are not compensated beyond scholarships for what they do? Absolutely. Think of the student athletes at national championship winning schools. At what other place in the United States can you help your firm reach the pinnacle of its existence and not be compensated for it? On paper, it really makes no logical sense.

However, putting aside the unfairness of the current system for a second, we need to think about the long term affects that this bill will have. For any sports league to persist, there needs to be competitive balance, and the main underlying issue with the Fair Pay to Play Act is that it has the potential to completely destroy the competitive balance in college sports. Every five star recruit will now flock to California and other states that pass similar bills. Additionally, big time football and basketball programs that are already filling their pockets to the brim will just get richer and draw attention away from other sports. Many argue that the athletes who make big time money by going professional are exceptions, and that the vast majority of collegiate athletes will never be able to sniff that kind of money in their sports. However, in the new landscape the Fair Pay to Play Act has created, the athletes with the potential to go pro will still be the exception. The earning potential of Tua Tagovailoa is exponentially greater than the walk on long snapper at Alabama if athletes can sign endorsements and profit off of their image and likeness.

We also have to consider the effects that a bill like this will have on our society as a whole. Returning to my opening story, many parents are going to start pushing their kids towards sports they probably shouldn’t be playing because their son or daughter can make more money when they get to the collegiate level. This act will absolutely have a domino effect and has the potential to change the sports landscape forever. Additionally, it will change how we view college sports for the worse. College sports will no longer be about pageantry and supporting an institution with a greater purpose. Instead, they will exclusively become another means to an end.

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