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Getting paid like the pros

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For years, student-athletes have protested at an ever-increasing volume, and it seems students attending a college or university in California may have finally had their complaints answered.

A new bill in California signed recently by Governor Newsom flies in the face of all prior legislation preventing collegiate athletes from being paid an amount beyond their tuition for their athletic participation. While this bill does not allow student-athletes to be paid a salaried wage, it allows them to use their position as a student-athlete to promote their commercial products or those of others.

Previously, athletes would walk on tiptoes at events with vendors and needed to be careful not to unwittingly participate in any promotional activities. To name one such instance, my teammates and I attended a professional beach volleyball tournament last year. Among the rows of courts were rows of tents, each with food vendors, giveaways and promotional contests. One such tent for Essentia Water was giving away free bottled water. We naturally stepped forward to grab a refreshment, as it was quite a warm day. But when a member of the Essentia team asked to take a picture of each of us with the bottles on her phone for their Instagram, an awkward pause hung in the air. Because we had been wearing our Stanford gear, we had to politely refuse a seemingly harmless action for fear of violating NCAA rules.

Even when friends ask for help promoting their businesses and platforms, student-athletes are not allowed to provide any help, even in a personal capacity. For example, if a friend needs models for their a designed clothing line, an athlete cannot help out.

This tension will be relieved, luckily, by the bill.

Stanford found itself at the center of the discussion following the passage of the bill. Many out-of-state schools claim that the new California legislation will give an unfair advantage to California schools in recruiting top student-athletes. Some universities, such as Ohio State, are even calling for the exclusion of California schools such as Stanford, UC Berkeley, UCLA and USC from NCAA tournaments and their athletic schedules.  

On the bright side, the state and the NCAA have stood by the bill and California schools, so currently, the possibility of exclusion is off the table. The athletic exclusion of Californian schools would be heinous — the top two schools with the most NCAA championships are both located here in the golden state: the Bruins down South, and of course our alma mater.

Some of the Governor’s most important reasoning behind signing the bill lies in evening the playing field, so to speak, off the field. All students except athletes, under current NCAA regulations, can use whatever position they hold, wherever they work, their status as a student at their university and any other accolade or part of their identity to promote their businesses and platforms. Being at Stanford and living in a place such as Silicon Valley, where the entrepreneurial spirit is pretty much more abundant than oxygen, almost anyone would like the opportunity to start a company or design an app. In the past, athletes couldn’t compete as well with other students on this front.

Sometimes being an athlete is part of — or is the entire — appeal for a product or service, and shows a student’s expertise and value. Without being able to use that part of their identity, the popularity of the product or business suffers. A great source of income for athletes is offering lessons or running camps coaching younger hopefuls in their sport. Although, if I, for example, wanted to start giving lessons and coaching, I could not use the fact that I am a Stanford athlete to promote my services, even though my status as a Stanford athlete would most likely be the main draw-factor for customers.

The trials and triumphs on the field, court, in the pool or wherever it may be shape who a person is, and often give them a certain set of skills that should be marketable.

Additionally, the largest complaint from teams such as football and men’s basketball — which tend to draw in large amounts of income for universities — is that they receive none of the profit. According to a previous op-ed article published in The Daily in 2017, “in the fiscal year ending Aug. 31, 2016, the Stanford football program generated revenues of $43,744,639.” This multimillion dollar sum is not passed to players who generate it. After further calculations, the same article determined that athletes see less than 29% of these generated revenues through scholarships and stipends. Universities can most definitely benefit from the funding their football and basketball programs generate, but so should athletes. It is simply unfair that players do not have the opportunity to utilize these funds personally. This change can come, in part, from allowing athletes to profit from their image in personal sponsorships rather than departmental, of which the new bill provides.

I will not go as far as to say that student-athletes should be paid on salary the way that professional athletes are. While I believe they could see more of the profit their team brings in for their school, I also see that student athleticism is not a true profession — they are still student-athletes.  If students were to receive professional salaries while in college, the motivation to succeed as a student and attend more prestigious universities would drop significantly. In addition, paying professional salaries would do the opposite of “evening the playing field,” as any athlete would immediately have a large financial advantage over any non-athlete.

With that said, this bill is the perfect middle ground. Student-athletes do deserve a change with regard to the use of their image, and this bill puts them at the level of the rest of the student body in entrepreneurial and promotional opportunities. It also allows them to benefit from some of the profit that their team may be bringing in through sponsors by using their image to promote other products. Although the bill does not ultimately affect the border between amateur and professions, student-athlete and athlete, it still makes a step in the right direction.

This bill is not set to go into effect until 2023 at the earliest, at the state level, yet we already see some of the same changes coming sooner from the NCAA itself. The sooner the better.

Contact Maddie Dailey at maddied ‘at’ stanford.edu.