College athletes — the men and women who represent their schools in a variety of sports — work hard on the difficult task of balancing athletics and academics.
Meanwhile, their respective schools rake in many millions of dollars by showcasing their games and athletes' talents, and particularly in the big business sports of football and basketball.
The question of whether that’s fair, and whether athletes should receive something more than the standard financial compensation has nagged at college sports and the NCAA for years.
The longstanding argument against allowing college athletes to get a slice of the financial pie has been that they already are “paid” for their services in scholarships and other related benefits. That stand made sense years ago, but not so much now considering how revenues have ballooned.
The NCAA cashes in on some $1 billion in revenue a year — with much of it funneled back to schools’ athletic departments.
The athletes that make this possible may not use their own names or likenesses for financial gain. Their respective schools, however, can and do ink lucrative endorsements for products that feature their athletes’ images and likenesses. That’s exploitative and hypocritical.
One state has taken action designed to help college athletes, but the approach may be out of bounds.
Policymakers in California passed a law that will allow college athletes to pursue sponsorships. Scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2023, the law makes it illegal for California colleges to deny their athletes opportunities to hire agents or gain compensation for the use of their names, images and likenesses.
While the measure was well-intentioned, some members of Congress understandably see a federal statute as a better option.
U.S. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, a former standout football player at Ohio State, plans to pitch a bill that would establish a new federal law giving athletes the opportunity to be paid for endorsements.
With the California law and other state-based moves likely to come, Gonzalez — an Ohio Republican — believes it’s necessary to move quickly to defuse problems that could stem from a state-by-state approach with a mix of offerings such as letting colleges pay athletes directly or setting up health care funds for them after their college careers are over.
It’s easy to see how such a state-by-state patchwork of plans could create unfair advantages and other problems. Prospective college athletes could shop around for the best possible deals and pit states against one another in doing so. Those states with more resources or more potential endorsement opportunities would rise to the top, with other states left behind.
A national, across-the-board plan would at least attempt to level the playing field. Kansas’ congressional delegation, if it wants to protect the interests of athletes and colleges alike in the Sunflower State, should get on board with Gonzalez in pushing toward federal legislation in some form.
We know members of Congress have trouble agreeing on most anything. Hopefully, they can set aside their differences and work as a team to resolve an escalating issue that’s plagued college sports for far too long.