Bellyaching and howls vs. NIL can't stop American commerce — and don't expect Congress to stop it
Because college athletics is incapable of writing its own rules, investigating its own scandals or even controlling its own boosters (not to mention coaches) it has turned toward Washington to be saved from its inertia, inaction and incompetence.
Yes, they are begging Congress for help; a desperate move for a desperate business model.
Earlier this week, the commissioners of the SEC and Pac-12 lobbied politicians for federal legislation so they are no longer stuck with a kaleidoscope of state name, image and likeness laws on the issue. There is additional concern that California is inching toward making college athletes employees of its universities, which the establishment vehemently opposes.
In the background are howls from football coaches about how NIL turned (predictably) into pay for play schemes, with school donors either buying off high school recruits or tampering with players on other teams.
As such, everyone is asking for “regulations” or “guardrails” or whatever else they want to call it.
Well, not everyone. The players — and their families — seem quite pleased with their newfound freedom of movement and commerce. Even boosters aren’t complaining. They are willing to pay the talent to win games.
Previously some/much of their donations went to buying out bad coaching contracts or constructing locker room waterfalls and mini golf courses for players. Maybe helping a working class family feels better.
As such, who knows how much traction all of this will get in Washington. It’s a tough argument to ask lawmakers to step into a “controversy” that is based on generally older, wealthier people giving money to generally younger, poorer people.
It’s not like college football is no longer going to be played. It will, same as always. It’s just that some of the players will compete on teams they wouldn’t have if they weren’t getting paid. In turn, maybe some different teams will win a little (or lose a little) more.
Again, wake us when a parent is asking for “guardrails.”
Dear Senator, please stop these college boosters from making our family rich.
“I don’t know if anybody thought we’d get to the point where seniors in high school were having multi-million dollar contracts,” LSU head coach Brian Kelly said on SiriusXM this week. “We’re looking at guys entering the transfer portal because they want to get paid to play …”
It’s actually not surprising at all. In professional sports, star players almost always make more than the coach, often exponentially more. Aaron Rodgers should earn about $50 million next season. So why wouldn't there be a rich market for top on-field talent in college football?
Kelly entered his own transfer portal in December, of course, skipping out on Notre Dame before it was even eliminated from playoff contention to get paid more to coach LSU. Money wasn't his only motivation. He also wanted a new challenge, a change of scenery and a school with what he thought has a better chance to win a championship. Hypocrisy? Kelly seemed more worried about incoming recruits making more money than returning stars.
“That’s no good for your locker room,” he said.
That seems like a coach issue – or an LSU booster issue – not cause for federal legislation.
It’s not like Kelly – or Nick Saban or Kirby Smart or anyone else – makes the same as their administrative assistant or their defensive coordinator or, hell, the president of the school or the governor of the state or …
The breaking point for much of this was a decision by Pittsburgh wide receiver Jordan Addison to enter the transfer portal last weekend, allegedly after being lured by someone either at or associated with USC.
Addison is a star, and he may indeed wind up with the Trojans and snag a fat guaranteed payout ostensibly to do promotional work. That’s a disappointment for Pitt fans, but that’s also life.
The two coaches closest to Addison last season – Pitt’s offensive coordinator and wide receivers assistant – left the program this offseason for higher paying jobs at Nebraska and Texas, respectively. No one raised much of a fuss. And Pitt even worked the portal for a new quarterback (from USC) and wide receiver (from Akron), among others.
So why can’t Addison do the same? The NCAA can and should strengthen its tampering rules as much as possible, but these will always be fairly easy to work around.
And is it that bad if the guy was presented with options? Maybe Addison wants to live in Los Angeles and prepare for the NFL draft by playing for a pass-happy coach (Lincoln Riley) and with a talented quarterback (Caleb Williams).
Addison transferring is micro problems – it’s a tough break for Pitt. At the macro level, he’s still going to play college football.
College sports had decades to implement gradual change or work with athletes for compromise. Instead it dragged its feet and held a hard line, even as it lost public support, political sympathy and lawsuit after lawsuit, all the way to a 9-0 drubbing in the Supreme Court.
“Nowhere else in America can businesses get away with agreeing not to pay their workers a fair market rate on the theory that their product is defined by not paying their workers a fair market rate,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote. “... The NCAA is not above the law.”
So maybe they are trying to rewrite the law here to best manage its new, court-ordered, reality.
It won't be easy. Trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube isn’t just complicated, it is likely impossible. The feds can provide a single standard, but how do you restrict trade between two entities (player, booster) that aren't even your employees?
It’s why the Supreme Court was unanimous. It's why state legislatures in places as disparate as California and Mississippi have pushed similar legislation. It's why senators Cory Booker and Marsha Blackburn regularly work together on NCAA issues.
For all the hysterics inside college athletics, for all the Chicken Little crying, nothing bad has actually happened. The players are happy. The parents are happy. Even the boosters are happy.
Inconvenienced coaches making eight figures a year?
Well, the season will come regardless. So will their paychecks.