College athlete endorsements: Fair or foul?

Mike Bebernes

"The 360" shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories.

What's happening:

On Monday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he had signed a bill that could fundamentally change college sports. The Fair Pay to Play Act will allow college athletes in the state to earn money by signing endorsement deals. Under current NCAA rules, these actions would cost players their amateur status and cause them to be barred from college competition.

The bill has received high-profile support: NBA superstar LeBron James said it would allow star athletes to be compensated for “the billions they create,” and Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted, “College athletes are workers. Pay them.”

NCAA president Mark Emmert warned that California schools could be barred from competing for national championships if the bill goes into effect. The issue of endorsements is related to, but distinct from, the debate over whether universities should directly pay athletes a stipend for playing.

Why there's debate:

Supporters of the bill argue that star athletes generate a tremendous amount of money for the people and systems around them but don't see any profit themselves, all while risking injury that could jeopardize their future earning potential. The situation is especially pernicious, some argue, because players in profitable "revenue sports" like football and basketball are forbidden from playing professionally out of high school because of age restrictions in the NBA and NFL.

Endorsement money could help alleviate the difficult financial circumstances that many players face while in college and benefit athletes in sports that don't have high-paying professional leagues, proponents say.

Opponents of the bill say it would undermine the spirit of amateurism that has been a core element of collegiate sports. There is also concern that allowing a handful of star players to earn big money would perpetuate a competitive imbalance that unfairly benefits high-profile schools. Others make the case that players are paid in the form of scholarship money and earn indirect benefit from the publicity that comes from playing college sports.

What's next:

The Fair Pay to Play Act will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2023. However, by that point it may prove unnecessary. The NCAA has begun its own process to look into how its rules might be amended to potentially allow many of the same provisions as California’s bill.


California's bill could force a radical change in how college sports work

"California can indeed change the game by passing the bill, which would circumvent the NCAA’s unfair and draconian rules forbidding student-athletes from making money

Endorsements can be beneficial to players and schools" — Liz Roscher, Yahoo Sports

Endorsements can be beneficial to players and schools

"Letting other people pay the athletes is a win-win-win. Players get a fair deal, and colleges avoid cash outlays many can’t make, issues over fairness among athletes, and unseemly bidding wars." — Len Simon, San Francisco Chronicle

Direct athlete endorsements would undermine more equitable schoolwide deals

"Currently, corporate funds go to athletic departments and are generally distributed among all sports; with third-party payments, those funds could instead mostly go directly to a few student-athletes, starving the rest." — Cody McDavid, New York Times

Athletes are left out of the huge money created by college sports

"Truly, the NCAA presides over a system that generates huge payouts for many participants. … Who’s deprived of a piece of the action? The student-athletes, who put their health and lives on the line to feed everyone else at the trough." — Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times

Athletes are already paid in scholarships

"I have never seen an athlete under scholarship starve while attending an American university. These kids are not living in poverty. If you’re on scholarship, you’re getting paid a lot of money — scholarship money." — Nick Canepa, San Diego Union-Tribune

Outside money would solve the funding problems that come with paying players directly

"So how do you create greater efficiencies (i.e., paying higher amounts to the athletes or teams generating more revenue) without creating internal budgeting or gender equity issues within your athletics program? You source those funds externally." — Patrick Rishe, Forbes

Endorsements would spoil the purity of amateurism

"It's a mistake to look at collegiate sports in purely financial terms. There is something philosophically beautiful in amateur sports, which engenders virtues that are sure to be lost if NCAA reformists get their way." — Alec Dent, Washington Examiner

The payments would eliminate the underground system of bribes that currently exists

"If Adidas was working to ensure particular basketball players went to schools affiliated with Adidas, as the FBI’s investigation revealed, would you rather that transaction happen in a transparent manner or under the table, where it’s often the adults around the player who end up profiting the most? " — Dan Wolken, USA Today

Endorsements would help athletes who don't have money-making opportunities after college

"Men and women college athletes who excel at swimming, track and other sports that lack robust pro leagues might benefit greatly by the ability to sign endorsement deals while they are in school — and while they are marketable to the public. For many of them, their window to profit from their unique talents is limited to their time in college." — Michael McCann, Sports Illustrated

The NCAA risks revolt by star players if it doesn't fix its system

"The message should be clear: Fix it before you’re humiliated and forced to fix it. A proactive reinvention would be far better than an unpredictable revolution." — Jerry Brewer, Washington Post

Amateurism is an empty concept

"It’s time to overcome the phony sentimentality of .. 'amateur athletics' and do the right thing." — Ed Kilgore, New York

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