The ongoing national debate about paying college athletes has led to California setting the pace for progressiveness.
Earlier this year, state legislators voted -- by an overwhelming 31-4 margin in California's Senate -- to allow student-athletes to be able to profit off their name, image and likeness (NIL). This won't mean anything to most current college athletes, because the statute wouldn't kick into effect until 2023. There are still a few more policy-making hoops to jump through, but California appears set to be a game-changing agent in the world of amateurism.
Unless the NCAA can convince it otherwise.
There's a fascinating issue coming to a head here. USA Today reports that NCAA President Mark Emmert recently made an overture via written letter to two chairpersons, imploring California's State Assembly leaders to reconsidering the timeline on its forthcoming regulations.
Emmert's reasoning is that California's lawmakers could wind up inadvertently triggering ineligibility for in-state California student-athletes. The reason is simple and obvious: NCAA rules currently don't allow for players to profit off their own achievements, abilities, personalities, marketing -- anything -- while in school. Specifically, players and/or programs could be eliminated from NCAA-championship participation. That goes for both conference tournaments and national playoffs.
This applies to essentially every NCAA sanctioned-sport with the exception of high-level FBS football, which for nearly four decades has run its bowls and national-championship configuration outside the NCAA's purview.
It's a tricky gambit from Emmert. The NCAA is currently evaluating its stance on the NIL issue, but even still, it seems a far cry to expect that organization to be as aggressively proactive as California lawmakers have been. (And other states could soon follow California's trail.)
Here's part of Emmert's letter, via USA Today:
"We recognize all of the efforts that have been undertaken to develop this bill in the context of complex issues related to the current collegiate model that have been the subject of litigation and much national debate," Emmert wrote in his letter to the committee chairs. "Nonetheless, when contrasted with current NCAA rules, as drafted the bill threatens to alter materially the principles of intercollegiate athletics and create local differences that would make it impossible to host fair national championships. As a result, it likely would have a negative impact on the exact student-athletes it intends to assist."
A spokeswoman for Assembly member Kansen Chu (D-San Jose), who will chair Tuesday's hearing, said Emmert's letter prompted Chu to seek an amendment from the bill's author, Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley). Late last week, wording was added that says "it is the intent of the Legislature to monitor" the NCAA working group and "revisit this issue to implement significant findings and recommendations of the NCAA working group in furtherance of the statutory changes proposed by this act."
Emmert wrote that even though the bill would not take effect until 2023, "passage of the bill now will create confusion among prospective and current student-athletes and our membership. The impact of a prematurely passed bill would be difficult to untangle."
This is urgent because the bill needs clearance from two more committees in the coming three weeks in order to remain viable for passing in 2019, according to USA Today. As for the NCAA, its NIL review will have determinations and/or recommendations come October.
The decision from California's legislators will likely create recruiting advantages/disadvantages that the NCAA does not want to see come to light. So now California's legislators find themselves with even more power than they might have initially expected. If they in effect call Emmert's bluff, the onus will then be on Emmert and his NCAA cohorts to make a decision. The NCAA can stay on its current track and not do anything, which would likely trigger ineligibility of California-based programs in four years -- and provide another sequence of bad press for the NCAA -- or it could have its hand forced and actually enact new rules that allow for the exact thing California's congresspeople have pushed for.
Wouldn't that be interesting.
And if other states follow, what's the NCAA to do? What if, come 2021, there are five or six states that opt for this legislation?
It has been the hope of many that the NIL issue would lead to fairer free-market opportunities for college athletes. The timeline always seemed viewable, but still far in the distance. Turns out, the most populated state in the country could be the entity to catalyze change and bring about some of the most significant rule changes in NCAA history.