Editorial: The NCAA is seeing the cost of its lack of urgency on fairness to athletes

  • Rep. Emanuel "Chris" Welch has introduced legislation designed to improve fairness in the rules applying to college athletes.

    Rep. Emanuel "Chris" Welch has introduced legislation designed to improve fairness in the rules applying to college athletes. capitol news Illinois file photo

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted10/3/2019 4:59 PM

State Rep. Emmanuel "Chris" Welch has thrown down a gauntlet of sorts before the NCAA. The association had best take it up, and soon.

Welch, of Hillside, has sponsored a proposed law, modeled on a new law passed in California, that would allow college athletes to sign endorsement deals and engage in various other business arrangements related to their celebrity.


On the face of it, the law seems a perfectly reasonable response to a situation that has festered for years, particularly in top-tier colleges and universities.

Indeed, the chief problem with the legislation isn't the proposal itself but the fact that it authorizes actions the college sports community should have found ways to permit long ago.

The NCAA, Division 1 colleges and universities, top administrators and coaches all wallow in money, while many among the source of their fortune -- that cadre of talented young men and women these interests ingratiatingly refer to as "student athletes" -- barely scrape by.

Repeated surveys over the years, including a 2018 report by ESPN, have found that the highest-paid public official in most states is a college football or basketball coach.

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These come alongside a similar bounty of studies like the National College Players Association report that found as many as 86 percent of student athletes on so-called full scholarships live at or below the poverty level.

This vast discrepancy clearly is not fair, and everyone associated with the system has known that for years.

Granted, addressing it is not simple. One reason the gap exists is the justifiable fight the NCAA has mounted to combat bribery, fraud and a host of complicated shenanigans institutions and their sports booster clubs have used in the past to lure top athletic talent.

And opponents make a valid point when they complain, as the NCAA said in a prepared statement, that unless the problem is dealt with on a national scale, "a patchwork of different laws from different states will make unattainable the goal of providing a fair and level playing field" for colleges and athletes nationwide.

But there is nothing new about these complications. That players association report came out in 2013 -- six years ago. It suggested such remedies as requiring so-called "full scholarships" to cover all costs of attendance, letting athletes make money from endorsements, autographs and use of their likeness and creating mechanisms to help athletes complete their degrees after their eligibility ends.


While there are issues to debate in these proposals, they are not hopelessly complicated. Yet the NCAA's response now, in 2019, is that it will "consider next steps' or "move forward with ongoing efforts to make adjustments to the NCAA name, image and likeness rules."

This is not enough, and the apparent lack of a sense of urgency is woeful. The obvious and persistent inequities in the existing system virtually guarantee that more states will follow Illinois and California with their own solutions.

The fact is that if the NCAA doesn't want a state-by-state confusion of unpredictable unintended consequences, up to and including the virtual professionalization of college sports -- and it shouldn't -- it must act decisively and soon.

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