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SALMAGUNDI: Following California, Illinois bill would force NCAA to reform

The foundation of amateur college sports could be crumbling thanks to a new California law, with practically identical legislation on the table in Springfield.

Last week California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed off on Senate Bill 2016, which goes into effect in January 2023 and bars NCAA members from punishing athletes who make money by signing endorsement deals or profiting off their name and likeness. Illinois Rep. Chris Welch, D-Hillside, filed House Bill 3904 the same day.

Athletes can hire agents, but can’t get their schools to pay them anything more than what the NCAA allows in scholarships and stipends. The measures don’t actually force colleges to do anything, they just limit the NCAA’s punitive powers.

Although the NCAA has two years to worry about California’s law kicking in — and the potential of other states to follow Illinois onto the bandwagon — its officials are already going public with their concern.

NCAA President Mark Emmert gave an interview to the Indianapolis Star expressing concern about “unfettered endorsement deals” undercutting the status quo and implying most schools are worried about their competitors working with agents to get students paid via endorsements.

The organization itself issued a statement, reading in part: “it is clear that a patchwork of different laws from different states will make unattainable the goal of providing a fair and level playing field for 1,100 campuses and nearly half a million student-athletes nationwide.” It also acknowledged the need to make changes in the way athlete students are supported (though compensated would be a better word) but insisted “improvement needs to happen on a national level through the NCAA’s rules-making process.”

Those are more than just words from the NCAA, which already has a working group looking at rule changes scheduled to make suggestions to the board of governors at the end of the month. While Emmert has cautioned about the implementation timetable even if the governors take any of the group’s suggestion, California and now Illinois have thrown down a gauntlet of sorts that makes it clear this contest is already past halftime and hurtling toward the final buzzer.

Anyone who works ought to be compensated fairly. Athletes do get scholarships and other expenses covered, but still that represents a too-small percentage of the overall amount big-time football and basketball generate — overall annual revenue exceeds $1 billion — and those are the sports where the professional leagues explicitly bar high school graduates from immediately signing contracts.

There are hundreds of thousands of college athletes who play at small schools or compete in nearly empty stadiums without television cameras. No one is making video games featuring those kids, no one is clamoring to buy their replica jerseys, no one would care if they recorded a commercial for this fast food restaurant or that soft drink.

But the NCAA, NBA and NFL must confront the reality of the staggering earning power of a few dozen elite athletes each year and decide whether to force those players to prop up the legacy of big-time college sports and, if so, how to make it worth their while. Otherwise, the decisions will be made for them.

CATCHING UP WITH … on April 16 I wrote about Community Food Basket of Ottawa’s monthly mobile food pantry. In addition to regular distributions at 519 W. Madison St., the charity now makes food available the first Saturday of each month at South Towne Mall.

When I chatted with co-manager Marissa Vicich in April, she said Food Basket staff and 40 volunteers had just served more than 180 families, the “biggest success so far.” Since, the high mark climbed to 195 families, and at Saturday’s October offering 200 families turned out for assistance.

As often is the case when we write about services like food pantries or homeless shelters, there are mixed emotions about increasing demand and the ability of people to meet those needs. It’s good news the word is out and people are finding help, but the work continues to eradicate the underlying reasons making such charities essential.

ON THIS DAY … “As you know, if you are a student of history, every famous historic event in American history occurred today.” So says my first favorite newspaper columnist, the Miami Herald’s Dave Barry, who always used the birthday of his son, Rob, because it was easier than remembering a bunch of other dates.

Though still doing quality work, Barry’s classics were unmatched. Each Oct. 8, I remember the joy and inspiration of reading Barry every Sunday. Happy birthday, Rob.

SCOTT T. HOLLAND is a former associate editor of The Times who continues to contribute his column plus help with editing and writing. He can be reached at newsroom@mywebtimes.com, facebook.com/salmagundi or twitter.com/sth749. 

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