State lawmakers: Wait, maybe we should actually PAY the players

After California's landmark likeness rights bill speeds towards passage, New York and South Carolina may take things a step further

Good morning!

If you like podcasts, I was on Slate’s Hang Up and Listen earlier this week discussing SB 206 in California. I think we got into a few things that I haven’t quite touched in the newsletter, so maybe you’d enjoy that.

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I have a few non-political (okay, less political) things to hit, but first, let’s check in with our friends at the statehouse.

New York and South Carolina join the legislative fray, with a new twist

After SB 206 became a national story in California, it isn’t a surprise that sympathetic lawmakers in other states would at least propose similar legislation. Just in the past week, new bills were proposed in South Carolina, and in New York.

Both bills share the overall thrust of SB 206, in that they give college athletes the right to monetize their own likeness. But unlike in California, both states also give schools the ability to straight up cut a check to the athletes as well.

South Carolina’s proposal, Via The State:

Their proposal would allow the state’s biggest colleges to pay $5,000-a-year stipends to athletes in profitable sports like football and basketball. It also would give collegiate athletes — who can receive tuition and housing for their efforts, but not pay — an opportunity to earn money from sponsorships and autograph sales for the first time.

New York goes even a step further, forcing schools to share 15% of their annual revenue with the athletes. Via ESPN:

The revenue, Parker said, would be divided equally among all student-athletes who compete for the school.

"It's about equity," Parker said. "These young people are adding their skill, talent and labor to these universities. ... You don't need the shortcuts and the end-arounds because now we're providing some real support for these student-athletes.

As I understand it, the South Carolina proposal would not necessarily include every D1 school in the state in the $5,000 a year stipends (South Carolina is home to a few of the smallest budgeted programs in D1), and wouldn’t include every athlete. New York’s, on the other hand, is cutting everybody a check.

Now, it’s probably worth noting that both of these bills are a long way from becoming anything more than one legislator’s idea. New York’s legislative session doesn’t even start until January, and I imagine the idea of paying out millions of extra dollars in athlete stipends will get stiff pushback from Syracuse, Buffalo, and other New York schools. Paying even just $5,000 to every D1 athlete at a school could cost around $4 million dollars. That’s not such a big number that it isn’t doable, but certainly big enough that people are going to complain about it.

Since South Carolina’s bill was proposed by two Democrats, it’s probably even less likely to gain traction. From The State:

Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, a Clemson graduate, said he is concerned paying players would ruin the excitement and atmosphere that makes college football unique. He said a scholarship provides plenty of value, especially since most student-athletes won’t go pro in sports.

“I would think this (bill) would have a long shot in South Carolina,” the Edgefield Republican said. “First of all, if (Democratic-controlled) California does it, that’s a tough obstacle to overcome in South Carolina by itself. I haven’t heard any conversations about this type of thing here.”

Probably worth reminding folks that Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney is not in favor of this sort of thing. And the quickest way to get your ass primaried in South Carolina would be to go against the wishes of the championship winning head coach.

But legislation doesn’t have to pass to help create additional leverage in the coming negotiations with the NCAA over likeness rights policies. If even one more heavily populated state joins California, any threat to expel or punish member schools would ring even more hollow. And every headline these bills get could help plant the seed in the mind of another state lawmaker.

I’m not sure if another state actually passes, or gets as close to passing, a bill like California’s. But to get what they want, I’m not sure they actually have to.

Idaho’s legacy makes “should you drop football” a more complicated question

The Chronicle of Higher Education took a look at the two most famous cases of a school downgrading their big time football programs, the University of Chicago, and the University of Idaho, and wondered if other schools should consider the same actions.

You may be at least casually familiar with the story of Chicago, one of the early great powerhouses outside the Ivy League. If you want the long, full, story, I encourage you to check out Stagg’s University by Robin Lester. If you want a more abridged version, as well as an essay on what might have happened had they kept their program, you should read my book, What If?

If you want the super abridged version, the TL;DR is that Chicago's pro-football president, William Rainey Harper, died young, and was eventually replaced by one of the country’s leading anti-football voices, Robert Maynard Hutchins. He institutes a series of policies that weaken the football program, and eventually pulls the school out of the Big Ten and disbands the program altogether. Chicago now competes at the DIII level.

Outside of a handful of schools shortly after World War II (mostly urban, Catholic ones), very few other programs followed Chicago’s lead. Most recently, Idaho became the first FBS program to drop to FCS back in 2016, and Chuck A. Staben, Idaho’s president, cited Hutchins as an inspiration.

I…don’t see many similarities between the two situations, to be honest. Near the end of the line, Chicago football unquestionably sucked. But don’t make my word for it:

(seems bad, imo)

But even a decade-ish before, they were near the nation’s elite. That the Maroons were lousy after 1929 was because the university basically decided to stop trying, which is fine. They dropped down from a position of institutional strength. Thanks to Chicago’s elite academics and research prowess, they didn’t really need football.

That wasn’t Idaho’s situation. The Vandals were stranded without a conference home and had spent most of the last several decades near the dregs of FBS anyway. There was no potential path to greatness. They dropped down not out of academic principle (c’mon, Idaho isn’t Tulane or Rice or something), but out of financial and practical necessity.

I honestly think more schools in FBS should at least consider Idaho’s path. Schools that have no practical path to ever accomplish even regular Cure Bowl appearances, schools without substantial fanbases or history of successes. Your Kent States, your San Jose States, etc. But Idaho isn’t exactly a smashing success story, at least so far.

The Chronicle notes that Idaho’s athletic donations cratered, Staben left the school, and Big Sky success has so far been elusive.

Meanwhile, officials at the Vandal Scholarship Fund, Idaho athletics’ main fund-raising arm, were irate. In May 2018 the group sent a letter to the university’s governing board calling for new leadership. Staben, the VSF wrote, was an “abrasive,” “anti-athletic establishment president” who “never had a real plan for funding athletics” and had sought to intentionally damage Idaho’s athletics programs. Athletics ran a deficit following the FCS move, and VSF funding dropped by more than $500,000. Later that month the board announced Staben’s contract would not be renewed.

There are other factors at play here, and the wisdom of the drop to FCS probably can’t be fully judged for a few more years at least. But I can understand why a university leader at a place like Akron or Louisiana Monroe would look at the fallout and lose any appetite for a bold reform.

In that respect, I guess they do share some similarities with Chicago. Maroon boosters weren’t itching to throw Hutchins a parade in the mid 1940s either.

For what it’s worth, Staben thinks other schools ought to consider acting even more dramatically.

De-emphasis is a healthy step, Staben said. But when asked whether other presidents should make a move like the one he took at Idaho, he offered an unconventional recommendation.

“I think,” he said, “they should seriously consider eliminating football.”

A bold move indeed. But there are reasons few followed Chicago’s lead. I wouldn’t expect them to start now, unless circumstances absolutely force them to.

Which hey, might still happen.

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