‘Fair Pay to Play’ sparks con­cern in LV

One is­sue is the mind­set of treat­ing col­lege ath­letes as busi­nesses

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Mark Wo­gen­rich

Some­day soon, a Le­high Val­ley restau­rant might name a sand­wich af­ter a col­lege ath­lete and pay him or her a li­cens­ing fee. Lo­cal sports ad­min­is­tra­tors are brac­ing for that day as they won­der whether it lands on the path.

At Le­high Univer­sity, for in­stance, Joe Ster­rett runs a Di­vi­sion I ath­letic de­part­ment with a bud­get and pur­pose far dif­fer­ent from the na­tion’s ma­jor pro­grams. But like many ad­min­is­tra­tors, he’s en­gaged in the “Fair Pay to Play” move­ment that prom­ises sweep­ing change for col­lege sports. And he has con­cerns.

“Every­body talks about big­time col­lege foot­ball and bas­ket­ball in busi­ness and eco­nomic terms,” Ster­rett, Le­high’s dean of ath­let­ics, said. “It’s about rev­enue, the mar­ket­place for coaches, and that’s not the way we’re set up [at Le­high] right now. But all of that lan­guage and be­hav­ior is very much aligned with a for-profit mind­set, and I worry that, with that broad brush, they’re go­ing to start treat­ing every­body like busi­nesses.

“I don’t think that’s af­ford­able for the ma­jor­ity of schools clas­si­fied in Di­vi­sion I now. I don’t think it’s healthy. It draws every­body away from the mis­sion of learn­ing.”

Le­high Val­ley sports ad­min­is­tra­tors say the “Fair Pay to Play” bills be­ing pro­posed across the coun­try, in­clud­ing Penn­syl­va­nia, won’t have the large-scale im­pact here that they will at larger pro­grams na­tion­ally. Lo­cal schools, which com­pete at the Di­vi­sion I, II and III lev­els, re­cruit dif­fer­ent stu­dent-ath­letes, most of whom do not re­ceive ath­letic aid nor go on to play pro­fes­sion­ally.

But the is­sue still hit home last week, when two Penn­syl­va­nia rep­re­sen­ta­tives an­nounced their plan to in­tro­duce a “Fair Pay to Play” bill in the com­mon­wealth that al­lows col­lege ath­letes to hire agents and earn en­dorse­ment money with­out los­ing their el­i­gi­bil­ity. Reps. Dan Miller and Ed Gainey from Al­legheny County said their pro­posed bill would mir­ror Cal­i­for­nia’s SB 206, which Gov. Gavin New­som signed last week.

In Penn­syl­va­nia, where law­mak­ers feuded with the NCAA re­gard­ing 2012 sanc­tions against Penn State’s foot­ball team, the is­sue still res­onates, said Christo­pher Borick, direc­tor of the Muh­len­berg Col­lege In­sti­tute of Pub­lic Opin­ion.

“The NCAA has very few friends across par­ti­san di­men­sions in Penn­syl­va­nia, given the prom­i­nent place the NCAA has had over the last decade,” Borick said. “Any­time there’s po­ten­tial pol­icy in which the NCAA is part of, you have to keep that his­tory in mind.”

The Cal­i­for­nia bill, sched­uled to take ef­fect in 2023, says that

schools, con­fer­ences and or­ga­niz­ing bod­ies (such as the NCAA) can­not pre­vent col­lege ath­letes from be­ing com­pen­sated for use of what’s known as their name, im­age and like­ness. An NCAA work­ing group study­ing the mat­ter is sched­uled to re­lease a re­port later this month.

Af­ter Cal­i­for­nia passed the bill, nu­mer­ous states pro­posed their own bills, cit­ing ar­gu­ments about eco­nomic free­dom for col­lege ath­letes and their lim­ited earn­ing time frames. Un­der the Cal­i­for­nia law, col­lege ath­letes can sign en­dorse­ment deals, earn money from a YouTube chan­nel or as an in­flu­encer and start a busi­ness with­out re­quir­ing an NCAA waiver.

At Power 5 pro­grams such as Penn State, where the ath­letic bud­get tops $155 mil­lion and ath­letes in many sports fre­quently are on tele­vi­sion, those changes will weigh heav­ily. The Pa­triot League, where Le­high and Lafayette com­pete, ex­pects a more-lim­ited im­pact.

Still, com­mis­sioner Jen­nifer Hep­pel said the con­fer­ence is “fully en­gaged” with the is­sue since it de­rives much of its rev­enue from the NCAA bas­ket­ball con­tract.

“It’s im­por­tant that our stu­dent-ath­letes have the same op­por­tu­ni­ties that other stu­dents have,” Hep­pel said. “In the Pa­triot League, we re­ally do be­lieve that col­lege ath­let­ics de­rives its le­git­i­macy from within the con­text of the aca­demic struc­ture. The idea of ty­ing name, im­age and like­ness ben­e­fits to ed­u­ca­tion and to the aca­demic struc­ture is im­por­tant

to us. There’s just not a clear-cut path on how to do that right now.”

One as­pect that could ben­e­fit Pa­triot League ath­letes in­volves en­trepreneur­ship. Cur­rently, ath­letes who start a busi­ness must ap­ply for an NCAA waiver to main­tain their el­i­gi­bil­ity. A busi­ness can’t cap­i­tal­ize on the ath­lete’s im­age.

Hep­pel said that nu­mer­ous Pa­triot League ath­letes have re­ceived such waivers. Now, ath­letes pur­su­ing web de­vel­op­ment or build­ing phone ap­pli­ca­tions would have the same ac­cess as non-ath­letes. Ster­rett called that a vic­tory for ath­letes.

“That’s ap­peal­ing and in­trigu­ing to a lot of young peo­ple,” Ster­rett said. “The idea of be­ing in­no­va­tive and cre­at­ing some­thing that could go to mar­ket is nur­tured by our fac­ulty. I sup­pose there’s al­ways an op­por­tu­nity for some­body to abuse that, but I don’t see it here. This would give an op­por­tu­nity that ex­ists for non-ath­letes to the ath­letes, which they have not had.”

Cap­i­tal­iz­ing on their name, im­age or like­ness would be less lu­cra­tive for lo­cal col­lege ath­letes than those at high-pro­file pro­grams, but it’s still an is­sue. Hep­pel, who was the as­so­ciate ath­let­ics direc­tor for ad­min­is­tra­tion at Ge­orge­town Univer­sity, re­called a restau­rant that had named a sand­wich af­ter a bas­ket­ball player. Ge­orge­town had to ask the restau­rant to change the name.

Un­der the Cal­i­for­nia law, and Penn­syl­va­nia’s pro­posed bill, that would be per­mis­si­ble. And the ath­lete could re­ceive a com­mis­sion for each sand­wich sold.

“If you look at the spon­sors at Le­high and Lafayette, they’re in it for the busi­ness,” Hep­pel said.

“They’re not in it nec­es­sar­ily for that tie to a spe­cific stu­den­tath­lete, but they can be. So how might that change for the stu­dent-ath­letes, es­pe­cially in smaller towns where the young men and women are more well known? It’s an in­ter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tion.”

In po­lit­i­cal cir­cles, the con­ver­sa­tion has crossed party lines to draw sup­port. Cal­i­for­nia’s bill passed unan­i­mously. The two Penn­syl­va­nia rep­re­sen­ta­tives who pro­posed their bill are Democrats, and State Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Jake Cor­man is “in­trigued” with Cal­i­for­nia’s law, a spokesper­son told KYW News­ra­dio.

“If you’re a con­ser­va­tive, you can say, ‘Look, this is the mar­ket, let it play out,’ ” Borick said. “And if you’re a lib­eral, you can say that the eco­nomic sys­tem has dis­ad­van­taged stu­dent-ath­letes and this is a way to em­power them. You could clearly align ar­gu­ments with your ide­o­log­i­cal mark­ers.”

Cor­man, who sued the NCAA in 2013 over the $60 mil­lion fine im­posed on Penn State’s foot­ball pro­gram stem­ming from the Jerry San­dusky scan­dal, is “cen­tral to the is­sue” in Penn­syl­va­nia, Borick said. What Cal­i­for­nia started, Cor­man could help move along in the com­mon­wealth.

“Sports mat­ter, in Penn­syl­va­nia they mat­ter a ton, but that doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean that sports mat­ters will be at the top of the leg­isla­tive agenda,” Borick said. “Still, it’s un­leashed, and it’s not go­ing to dis­ap­pear any­time soon.”

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