Politics & Government

2 SC lawmakers will file proposal to pay college athletes, following California’s lead

Shane Battier talks about paying college athletes

Former Duke University basketball star and retired NBA player Shane Battier says the NCAA should think about how to support student-athletes beyond the debate of player compensation. Alumni and booster networking and teaching athletes basic financ
Up Next
Former Duke University basketball star and retired NBA player Shane Battier says the NCAA should think about how to support student-athletes beyond the debate of player compensation. Alumni and booster networking and teaching athletes basic financ

This week, California’s state legislature became the first one in the United States to pass a controversial proposal allowing college athletes to profit from their fame by earning endorsement money.

Two S.C. Democrats want South Carolina’s Legislature to become the second.

S.C. Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, and Rep. Justin Bamberg, D-Bamberg, told The State Thursday they plan to file a bill similar to California’s SB 206 proposal when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.

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.

Such proposals — also being considered by a handful of other states — are a direct challenge to the NCAA’s amateurism business model, which has faced withering criticism as TV deals and coaches’ salaries have ballooned.

“The legislation passed in California is a sign of the times,” Kimpson said. “The NCAA is not an amateur sports league. This is a multibillion dollar sports empire where everyone involved makes money except the players on the field who earn it.”

The California Fair Pay to Play Act is still pending. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has a month to decide whether to sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature. The new law would take effect Jan. 1, 2023, giving the NCAA time to get on board with letting players profit from their names and likenesses.

Similar proposals in recent years, including from Kimpson and Bamberg, have failed to gain traction at the S.C. State House. A 2015 bill filed by then-state Rep. Joshua Putnam, R-Anderson, that closely mirrors the California legislation, never even got a hearing.

The idea faces stiff opposition from the NCAA and many coaches and college administrators, even as the NCAA announced in May it has formed a working group to study it.

University of South Carolina Athletics Director Ray Tanner said in June the idea seems like “pay for play” and “gives me angst.” Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey agreed.

Tanner wondered how locker rooms would be affected when star players benefit from endorsement deals and their teammates are left out.

Clemson University football coach Dabo Swinney, whose $10.25 million 2019 salary makes him the highest paid college coach in the United States, said he will “go do something else” if college players are paid.

In response to SB 206, the NCAA has threatened to exclude California schools — including storied programs such as Southern California, Stanford and UCLA — from its competitions because of the “unfair recruiting advantage” those teams would have over their unpaid counterparts.

That means California and states that pass similar legislation could be entering a high-stakes game of chicken with a national organization that historically is slow to change.

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.”

Currently, student athletes are eligible for scholarships and assistance with housing and meal plans.

While those scholarships often are cited as adequate compensation for student athletes, critics have charged that schools sometimes provide subpar educations to student athletes. They also have blamed the NCAA for failing to police academic fraud designed to keep those players eligible for competition, such as the ‘paper’ classes scandal at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Last month, the NCAA quietly dropped a recommended reform that would have given it more authority to handle academic misconduct, the Raleigh News and Observer reported.

Meanwhile, college athletes can’t profit from their own names or likenesses or enter into endorsement deals until after they graduate.

Former Gamecocks quarterback Connor Shaw and tailback Marcus Lattimore, for example, have been all over the Columbia airwaves pitching brands like Colonial Life, Lexington Medical Center and the Columbia Metropolitan Airport. But they had to wait until they left school to cash in.

Stars such as former University of Georgia tailback Todd Gurley have been suspended for selling autographs or jerseys, though the schools they play for can rake in millions of dollars in revenue each year in sponsorship deals.

That extra money — even just a few thousand dollars a semester — could go a long way for underprivileged athletes and their families, Rep. Bamberg said.

He added he doesn’t think much of the NCAA’s threat to exclude California schools from future competition.

“Our job is to take care of our citizens, our schools, our players,” Bamberg said. “If another state wants to continue the proverbial football farm and not allow their students to get what they deserve and what they’ve earned, that’s their problem. That’s not ours.”

Senate Education Committee Chairman Greg Hembree, R-Horry, whose committee will handle Kimpson’s bill, said he is open to the idea. He noted that another amateur-based organization, the Olympics, adjusted its rules to let professional athletes compete.

“The NCAA is probably the organization that is going to have to change its mind and culture,” Hembree said.

Avery G. Wilks is The State’s senior S.C. State House and politics reporter. He was named the 2018 S.C. Journalist of the Year by the South Carolina Press Association. He grew up in Chester, S.C., and graduated from the University of South Carolina’s top-ranked Honors College in 2015.
  Comments