NCAA athlete compensation

At left, Big East Conference Commissioner Val Ackerman speaks to reporters March 12 in New York. At right, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith answers questions during a news conference Dec. 4, 2018, in Columbus, Ohio. The NCAA announced Wednesday that its Board of Governors supports a plan that gives athletes the ability to cash in on their names, images and likenesses.

The NCAA is not an innovative institution. It is reactive, rather than proactive. And what’s happening now with athlete compensation is a prime example.

On Wednesday, the NCAA’s top governing body announced it was in support of a proposal that would allow college athletes to profit from endorsements and other work.

It is the right move. But once again, it is reactionary, borne from mounting pressure coming from state governments to allow players to receive pay for use of their name, image and likeness.

Legislation was first introduced and then passed by California, which would allow athletes at NCAA programs in that state to be compensated. That law goes into effect in 2023.

The bill passed by a 73-0 vote in the California Assembly and a 39-0 vote in the Senate. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law last September.

The primary goal of the California legislation was to force the NCAA’s hand. Mission accomplished. Politicians in North Carolina and South Carolina, among other states, announced support for the legislation.

The NCAA pushed back vehemently, threatening to ban California member institutions from competing in NCAA sanctioned competitions.

My how that tune has changed.

This is something the NCAA should have seen coming years ago. It failed to act.

It’s not about paying athletes to play. That’s wrong and doesn’t make any sense.

Instead, this is about letting the small percentage of athletes who have real marketing power get paid by third parties. This money won’t be coming from the universities.

The NCAA has not made any formal decision.

During the next few months, member schools will have a chance to provide feedback. A formal proposal on the rule changes will be submitted no later than October, and the NCAA board will have an official vote no later than January, according to ESPN reporter Dan Murphy.

But if we have learned anything from past behavior, even when the NCAA appears to be doing the right thing, there is reason to be skeptical.

The NCAA Board of Governors recommendations include stipulations such as this: it wants the NCAA to have the ability to “regulate” the kind of contracts athletes could sign and the financial value of those contracts.

This goes against free market and capitalist principles. The NCAA wants you to believe the current system is all about amateurism and fairness.

Bologna. It’s big business, and the rich programs only get richer.

Give athletes the power to control their destiny, and allow them to be paid for it. This isn’t going to wreck any system of fairness because that system doesn’t exist anyway.

But it’s not just politicians at the state level driving change. The NBA’s developmental league, the G League, is also backing the NCAA into a corner.

The current one-and-done system is bad for the NBA and bad for college. It makes a mockery of receiving a college education when a basketball player shows up to campus for six months as a “student-athlete” then leaves to the NBA.

Elite prospects who didn’t want to go to college or didn’t qualify were left with few desirable options, and many of them chose to play overseas for a year.

The G League has now stepped in to fill a void by offering contracts to players right out of high school. They can play here in the United States, get paid for their services, and then enter the NBA draft.

That idea is now catching fire with many young prospects. Three of the top prospects in the 2020 recruiting class — Jalen Green, Daishen Nix and Isaiah Todd — have decided to forgo college to sign contracts with the G League.

Green is the top-ranked recruit in the country according to ESPN and ranked No. 2 by Rivals. The shooting guard from Napa, California, will be paid $500,000 to play the 2020-21 season.

Nix, a five-star point guard from Las Vegas, and Todd, a five-star power forward from Raleigh, N.C., will also earn six-figure salaries.

This trend is likely to continue, which makes the NCAA nervous about its men’s basketball product. If these top prospects go to the G League instead of Duke, Kentucky or Arizona, it diminishes the college game.

More importantly to the NCAA, it will diminish the size of future TV contracts.

Look at the excitement and marketability of Zion Williamson. Had he chosen the G League instead of going to Duke, the NCAA loses millions of dollars in marketing and exposure he brought to NCAA basketball.

It’s now incumbent on the NCAA to make the necessary changes to its model that should have been made years ago. But first it has to get out of its own way.


Brian Wright is the sports editor at PinalCentral. He can be reached at