By Ann Miller, George Mason University
In late September, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the Fair Pay to Play Act into law. Under this state law, most postsecondary educational institutions and collegiate athletic organizations can no longer prohibit athletes from earning compensation from their “name, image, or likeness” being used in advertisements. This means that NCAA athletes will be free to monetize their personal brands starting in 2023, when the law takes effect.
Supporters argue that athletes should receive fair compensation for millions of dollars in revenue they provide to their universities and athletic programs. The Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins wrote that the NCAA prefers to keep student athletes in an artificially impoverished, right-less, bounded class without the right to earn compensation.
However, these arguments miss the point. Student athletes are already compensated for their image and likeness, but not in the form of cold hard cash for advertising spots. Rather, the existing arrangement is fair because it is a consenting exchange paid for in both monetary and non-monetary value.
First, participating in NCAA college athletics is a choice. Alternatives include not playing, playing through another athletic association such as NAIA, competing in outside organizations (like intermurals or CrossFit), or even playing internationally. The NCAA does not force athletes to play through the organization or their associated universities. If they choose to participate, the agreements they sign do indeed come compensated.
In fact, NCAA athletes receive extraordinary monetary and non-monetary compensation unavailable to other student groups. This comes in the form of scholarships, opportunities, and academic and medical services.
According to US News and World report data, the average student-athlete scholarship equates to about $18,000. While an athletic scholarship may not entirely cover average university expenses, which range from $25-$35,000, athletes can seek other merit-based or need-based support for their studies such as the Federal Pell Grant. The NCAA sets aside billions of dollars in athletic scholarships and grants for their athletes as well.
Moreover, college athletes receive an incredible opportunity to play and receive training at advanced levels. Athletes do not have to pay to access multimillion-dollar facilities and countless hours of their trainers’ and coaches’ time and energy, which is worth millions of dollars a season. Additionally, many college athletes travel for matches abroad. These programs pay thousands to fly, house, and feed their athletes within the US and abroad.
Furthermore, college athletic programs and the NCAA offer many non-monetary amenities such as medical care, academic support, and clothing and equipment. In the unfortunate event that an athlete is injured, their medical care is completely covered. Athletes also receive personal access to dietitians, chiropractors, psychologists, and other specialists to provide whatever care they need in order perform well.
Finally, the NCAA sets strict guidelines for the academic performance of its athletes. Athletic departments set aside portions of their budgets for staff and resources dedicated to helping athletes succeed in the classroom. This includes having access to tutors, study rooms, and academic advising staff unavailable to the rest of the student body. NCAA research suggests that student athletes graduate at rates higher than other college students. This success could be partially attributed to the millions of dollars allocated yearly to student athlete academic success.
Despite all this, the law should not be repealed. The right to our likeness and image is fundamental, and its value and importance should not be diminished.
Rather, it is worth pointing out that college athletes were far from an oppressed class before the law. Fundamentally, the athlete exchanges their likeness, image, and time for immense opportunity and monetary reimbursement. While only some athletes see this money physically, all athletes receive thousands if not millions of dollars in the value of all the opportunities and services provided to them through a fair exchange with the NCAA and their athletic departments. We shouldn’t beat up on the NCAA too badly; they were bringing a lot to the table all along.
Ann Miller is a second-year MA student in economics at George Mason University.