Part 2: The Implications of Pay to Play

On the face of it, college athletes should be able to benefit from their own name, image, and likeness in college athletics. And we have already have seen ‘family advisors’ (agents) work well enough in college hockey. But how to manage this new world in an equitable, managed, and transparent way is the real question.

While many people agree with some sort of compensation, few understand the complexity of such an arrangement. Add 10+ states looking at their own, unique legislation and the NCAA and college administrators are left with a mess.

We don’t have an existing model of a for-profit model in college athletics, mostly because all reputable, ethical institutions are non-profit colleges and universities, which makes sense. Currently, there is no collective bargaining between the players and the institution or outside interests and the current relationship is based on a student-athlete model where students receive scholarships (varying amounts) for tuition, meals, training, coaching and a stipend (cost of attendance) in exchange for their play in the field, on the court, ice, etc. And there is value there.

We have no idea how this will be implemented but the impact could be far-reaching. And there are a number of unanswered questions that have never to be considered until now:

  • Will schools actively bring sponsors to students?
  • Can high school students negotiate deals before they start college?
  • Is there a system in place to ensure that payments are reasonable/market based? Or, is the ‘market’ whatever someone will pay?
  • Do students get paid directly or do the payments go into a holding/escrow account pending graduation/departure?
  • -Will payments impact university scholarships and/or benefits provided?
  • What if a sponsor’s products/values are in direct conflict the universities policies/sponsorships (bars, strip clubs, casino, marijuana retail, shoes, apparel, etc.).
  • Can a shoe or apparel company sponsor an athlete in conflict with the universities own merchandise contracts?
  • Will there be a standard student-athlete service agreement and is the agreement public or private?
  • If a student defaults on a sponsor agreement, is the university on the hook?
  • If athletes are generating revenue for performance in sports, does the value of their scholarship and benefits get taxed?
  • Do shoe/apparel companies cut deals with athletes directly, taking away funds from athletic departments and non-revenue sports? Who makes up the difference?
  • Will athletic departments need to add compliance staff to either seek sponsorships for athletes or monitor compliance?
  • What about title IX? What if male athletes are benefiting more by sponsorship deals – does the university have to make up the difference for women’s players?
  • Could a wealthy booster sponsor an entire team? Example: Could Colorado billionaire and Colorado Rockies owner Dick Monfort essentially bankroll the University of Northern Colorado Basketball roster?
  • With some athletes having sponsors and others not, will team chemistry be impacted? Will players play for stats instead of the team?
  • -Will sponsors be able to openly recruit/lure athletes from their existing school to a new school?
  • Should universities get a piece of the ‘Pay for Play’ action because they provide facilities, training, coaching, media exposure, education, etc.?
  • Will athletes be distracted when balancing academics, athletics and sponsorship responsibilities?

This is just a quick list of potential issues that must be addressed as college athletics moves towards a professional model. And there are surely more issues and legislation which is sure to complicate Pay for Play guidelines.

Agree or disagree, one thing is certain, this will be more complex than many proponents argue. Also, this is likely to impact star athletes and bigger universities the most, causing a greater divide among Power Five schools and all the rest. And, eventually, if student-athletes get paid what amounts to a salary by universities for their services, the issues will become even more complex.

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