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NCAA president Mark Emmert calls California law 'new form of professionalism'

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Oct 4, 2019

NCAA president Mark Emmert wants talented high school athletes to make a clear choice between immediately making money from sports and a college education, and he's worried that a new law passed in California earlier this week regarding college athlete compensation will go too far in blurring that distinction.

California's SB206 law, which will go into effect in January 2023, prohibits colleges in that state from punishing college athletes for making money by selling the rights to their names, images and likenesses to outside bidders. In his first interview since the law was signed, Emmert told the Indianapolis Star that he believes California's future model is "just a new form of professionalism."

"(They may be) paid in a fashion different than a paycheck (from the school)," Emmert said. "But that doesn't make them not paid."

California's law will create an open market with very few restrictions on how and to whom athletes could sell their name, image and likeness rights. Emmert told The Star that "unfettered endorsement deals" could ruin the current collegiate model. He said the chief concern of most schools in the NCAA is that the schools will get involved with arranging or supporting endorsement deals.

The California law does not require schools to be a part of that process. The NCAA did not respond with an answer when asked Friday morning why Emmert felt schools would inevitably take part in arranging future potential endorsement deals.

Emmert told the Star leaders in the NCAA are not opposed to finding "an appropriate way" to open the door for some form of compensation for athletes, but a completely unregulated market is "not acceptable." The NCAA has assembled a working group to examine options for changing its current rules, which do not allow college athletes to accept endorsement money. That group is expected to provide recommendations to the NCAA's board of governors at the end of October. Emmert told the Star it would take several months to finalize any rule changes the working group suggests if they choose to do so.

Most of the American public believes college athletes should be able to make money from endorsements, according to a new poll conducted by Seton Hall University. The poll found that 60% of those surveyed favored the idea while 32% were against it. For respondents under the age of 30, that number jumps to 80% who are in favor of college athletes collecting endorsement money.

The California law also allows athletes to hire agents to help them negotiate endorsement deals while they maintain college eligibility, which is another step that the NCAA does not currently allow and that Emmert finds untenable for the future. He said if third parties are involved in helping prospective athletes figure out what type of endorsements they could secure by attending different schools during the recruiting process, it would change the dynamic of a student picking a university into something more akin to an employee picking an employer.

"If you want to be a professional athlete, there ought to be those opportunities," Emmert said. "If you look at baseball, for example, a young man at 18 can go out and be a professional baseball player. He can say, 'I can go here or I can go to college, and if I go to college I can live by those rules. And then everybody goes by those rules. If he goes to launch his life, he can say, 'I'm not going to get an education, I'm not going to go to campus, I'm not going to play in the College World Series. And that's a free choice they can make."

Emmert's comments did not make it clear if he believes receiving a college education and making money from athletic ability need to be mutually exclusive. The NCAA did not immediately respond to questions seeking clarity on that issue.

Emmert acknowledged to the Star that opportunities to play professionally right away don't currently exist for football and basketball players -- the two sports that create the most revenue for the NCAA. He said he believes it's wrong that the NFL and NBA require athletes to wait three years (NFL) or one year (NBA) after high school to enter their leagues. He said they will continue to work with those leagues to try to change those rules.