It’s Time To Pay Student-Athletes For What They Already Own

BY MIKE PRATER
THE IDAHO PRESS

The new college sports legislation you heard about this week is complicated, so let’s boil it down to something simple, something familiar to Boise State football fans.

All the fuss is about beanies, scarves and a grown man’s right to crochet.

We all remember Ian Johnson, the highly popular, highly eccentric running back from the original Fiesta Bowl days. He crocheted beanies and scarves by the hundreds, a hobby he started in high school and continued upon his arrival at Boise State.

In 2006, the NCAA told Johnson he couldn’t use his name, image or likeness for any type of financial gain.

He couldn’t promote the product.

He couldn’t collect $15 for a blue-and-orange fashion statement.

He couldn’t even give the beanies to charity.

Boise State officials shook their heads.

Boise State fans pounded their fists.

And the NCAA went about its greedy business — but 13 years later, that old, warped business is being forced to change, for the better.

The Ian Johnsons of the college athletic world are about to get paid, even if it takes a few years to wade through red tape, legal battles and the stubbornness of longtime college administrators who are afraid to lose control.

How can someone else control your name, image and likeness in the first place?

Find another billion-dollar business where suits who earn six- and seven-figure salaries and bonuses stash all the cash … and the teen-aged talent is told it can’t sell a $15 beanie.

It doesn’t exist.

And it shouldn’t exist in college athletics — a $14 billion industry, according to the New York Times.

That’s why California passed the Fair Pay to Play Act — a legitimate, game-changing bill with teeth that will forever alter college athletics, starting Jan. 1, 2023. And it’s why a dozen or so other states (and U.S. lawmakers in at least two states) have initiated their own debates with the hope that the NCAA joins the 21st Century.

Kellen Moore, as the winningest quarterback in college football history, should have the right to make a $1,000 a month doing car commercials.

Allie Ostrander, as a national champion runner, should be able to promote shoes and pocket cash.

Basketball star Derrick Alston should be able to sell his autograph for fair market value.

Soccer standout Raimee Sherle should be able to work a summer camp, or coach a youth team, and grab some summer spending money.

And if EA Sports wants to crank up its old “NCAA Football’’ video game, and give all represented athletes $1,000 and a free copy, it would be un-American to think that’s a poor idea.

Boise State athletic director Curt Apsey is opposed to the California act, which as of now, would only apply in California. In reality, depending on final details, a new law could actually help the local athletic department.

Right now, let’s say a local business gives Boise State athletics $250,000 a year.

In the future, an additional $2,500 could go to a student-athlete.

The Treasure Valley is a thriving business market, and the market could help Boise State maintain its status as a Group of Five power.

Would future Hank Bachmeiers want to sit deep on USC’s depth chart — and not make an extra dime — or would they want to come to Boise and become paid stars?

More Hank Bachmeiers in Boise, please.

By the way, none of this future money would come from the school, but from outside employers who want to attach their businesses to elite names, and compensate them through sponsorships, endorsements or employment.

Yes, there will be unintended consequences, agents-gone-bad, abuses of power, and it’s critical these details be worked out as best as possible, but who cares about the Alabamas of the world. They already do what they want. No impact on Boise State.

Yes, as Apsey correctly states, student-athletes are pampered more than ever before — and receive more money and side benefits than ever before. If done right, they leave college with a degree — and debt free.

But paying student-athletes for their name, image and likeness is the final hurdle to make all things right.

The NCAA, obviously, is fighting this because it wants a “fair and level playing field’’ — but that’s a joke. That doesn’t exist now, not even close.

Big boosters already impact college football.

Sneaker companies already run big-time college basketball.

Nike isn’t going to make every student-athlete on the Oregon campus a millionaire. That would be a bad business practice.

Let’s put the cashgrab out in public, for the student-athlete to profit, for the world to see, for universities to audit, and for the government to tax. It’s a win-win.

The Olympics used to be pure amateur, and when paychecks became involved, most of us cried foul. Professionalism would ruin the spirit of the Games, most of us said, but that never happened.

The same will happen with college athletics moving forward.

Let’s be honest: This is a nasty quagmire and nobody really knows what’s going to happen. By 2023, there could be one set of rules. Or 51.

At best, let’s hope smart people reach a reasonable compromise.

If nothing else, the new California law has stimulated important conversation. It has pressured the slow-moving NCAA to take on a sense of urgency. The organization must act, and act now.

And one day soon, student-athletes will collect the biggest wins of their lives: The right to own and operate their name, image and likeness.

If the big man on campus wants to crochet beanies and sell them for $15, so be it.

College athletics will survive.

Mike Prater is the Idaho Press sports columnist and co-hosts Idaho Sports Talk on KTIK 93.1 FM every Monday-Friday from 3-6 p.m. and Bronco Game Night after every Boise State football game on KTIK and KBOI 670 AM. He can be found on Twitter @MikeFPrater and can be reached at mikefprater@gmail.com.