BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 06/25/2019

Thiel: NCAA to California schools — drop dead

The California Assembly is moving on a bill that would compensate the state’s college athletes for use of their likenesses. NCAA prez Mark Emmert says whoa. Please?

NCAA president Mark Emmert is begging the California Assembly for mercy. /

In its ongoing pursuit to remain a relic from 19th-century Britain in 21st-century America, the NCAA has fired a shot across the bow of California state legislature that is advancing a bill to compensate college athletes by 2023 for use of their likenesses.

Mark Emmert, the former University of Washington president now in charge of rolling the NCAA’s rock up a steep hill, wrote a letter of complaint last week strongly suggesting that if the bill became law, California schools would be prohibited from participating in NCAA events, including and especially four members of the Pac-12 Conference — USC, UCLA, Cal-Berkeley and Stanford.

Before Huskies coaches Chris Petersen and Mike Hopkins pull oblique muscles high-fiving one another, beware that if the Cal politicians succeed, it would be only a matter of time before the state of Washington, and many peers, would enact similar legislation.

If Emmert continues to stand at the schoolhouse door waving an ax handle at various state gummints, his precious Final Four men’s basketball field likely will include Brokeback Mountain State, Tennessee AM/PM Mini-Mart, Possum Polytechnic and Nevada-Pole Dance.

According to a story in USA Today, the bill passed the state Senate 31-4 in May. Tuesday, it will be the subject of a hearing and vote by the state assembly’s Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism and Internet Media Committee. If the bill advances, it would go to the Higher Education Committee, which would have to approve it by July 11 for it to remain alive this year.

The progress of a law that contradicts a fundamental principle of the NCAA — the right of schools, administrators and coaches to make millions off the backs of an unpaid labor force — was sufficiently sudden to inspire Emmert to dip quill into ink and write the committee chairs of the bill’s threat to some cushy livelihoods.

Emmert’s letter read in part:

 . . . as drafted the bill threatens to alter materially the principles of intercollegiate athletics and create local differences that would make it impossible to host fair national championships. As a result, it likely would have a negative impact on the exact student-athletes it intends to assist . . . passage of the bill now will create confusion among prospective and current student-athletes and our membership. The impact of a prematurely passed bill would be difficult to untangle . . .

In response, Chris Farley’s immortal Matt Foley character on Saturday Night Live put it best:

Emmert and all his acolytes, sycophants and back-benchers have seen this train coming for years. Amateurism as a sports discriminator has been dead everywhere in the world except in American college sports.

The Brits invented the concept only as a way to keep working-class ruffians from mucking up the polo matches of the royals. Yet somehow amateurism morphed perniciously into some exalted status in the alleged capitalist meritocracy of the U.S., where there was always plenty of money to pay the players over the table instead of under it.

Now, states are taking action instead of waiting for the feds.

A week ahead of the May vote, Emmert created a “working group” of school presidents and administrators to “examine issues highlighted in recently proposed federal and state legislation related to student-athlete name, image and likeness.” So an amendment was added to the California bill saying the legislature will “monitor” the group’s progress toward a solution.

The pols have yet to put down the dagger at the NCAA’s neck. Holding off the bill’s implementation until 2023 gives the NCAA time to come up with a plan, so figurative throats don’t have to be slashed now.

Yet recruiting for players who could be seniors in ’23 is underway already.

The recruits would be wise to ask the coaches from the California programs whether they’ll be playing big-boy ball then, and whether the players might earn some legit cash as seniors. That will be awkward, which is, of course, the fun part.

The NCAA’s slow creep on reform — paying for the full cost of attendance, covering medical costs for sports injuries for two to four years after graduation — suggests that the administrators know they’re on the wrong side of history. The California legislature has a chance to speed away from incrementalism, and inspire progressive states such as Washington to pick up the local cudgel.

Legislators have to to know that Emmert and his predecessors have used the excuse for years that previous proposed reforms would be “difficult to untangle . . . ”

Only because the sports moguls knew that the system was wrong to begin with.

Difficult? Laa di frickin’ da.


  • WestCoastBias79

    The NCAA threatening California is kind of rich, and it’s not just going to be a progressive state thing. I’d hazard a guess that athletes value money over championships, and if CA starts drawing talent from SEC country, all of the sudden a bunch of red states start looking progressive just to keep their football teams good. At that point, the NCAA jig is up.

    • art thiel

      That’s Emmert’s big fear — an uneven playing field. That’s exactly the threat needed to generate meaningful, comprehensive reform.

      • Ken S.

        Been a long time coming. I’ve advocated for a base salary for student athletes for a very long time.

        • art thiel

          The idea has been around for decades, but it took a former athlete, Ed O’Bannon, to persevere in court in order to scare the NCAA into mere incremental reforms.

  • Tian Biao

    thanks for bringing this to light in such amusing fashion Art. great one-liners throughout. including this one: ‘a negative impact on the exact student-athletes it intends to assist.’ that is a hoot! this could get interesting very fast. I agree with WestCoast below: money talks. certainly a lot of recruits might find it very appealing. do it, California!

    • art thiel

      Glad you enjoyed. The NCAA knows the proposed law has been coming for some time, but kept denying meaningful reforms. 2023 isn’t that far away, especially since the recruits now are considering it.

      • IdahoDawgFan

        There is a very good reason that unemployed sportswriters, biased prose from obsolete pros, only can find an audience on free websites.
        Time to retire.

        • coug73

          You mad bro?

        • Husky73

          IdahoDawgFan…..Yup, you are right. It’s time for you to retire. I hope your retirement is better than mine.

        • dingle

          Perhaps you could tell us specifically what you take issue with in the article. I’m genuinely interested.

        • A Rothgery

          Biased? By that you mean he has an opinion. Thank god he has an opinion. If you prefer the corporate, journalistic yes-men, go read your espn.

        • art thiel

          Who knew Voldemort lived in Idaho?

  • 1coolguy

    The NCAA has the upper hand – Alabama and Texas will never agree, so it is DOA.

    • art thiel

      The NCAA doesn’t have to agree — it would be state law, and a trade association like the NCAA would have to comply or be denied access.

  • Alan Harrison

    So I just looked it up: the NCAA mission statement, that is. “Our purpose is to govern
    competition in a fair, safe, equitable and sportsmanlike manner, and to
    integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the
    educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount.” So that the educational experience…is paramount. Hm. For a lot of schools, that might be true. But for the whole of the NCAA? Not so much. Wrong side of history is the right way of putting it. Also, this doesn’t seem to be a partisan issue – 31-4 proves that. Go, California, go!

    • art thiel

      Thanks for doing that, Alan. High-sounding words, too rarely achieved. The workload for for rev-sport athletes at top-tier schools is equivalent to a full-time job, including travel, training and rehab. And then they’re supposed to take a full workload when relatively few of them have been taught time-management skills?

      For many, ridiculous.

  • dingle

    Burn down the corrupt NCAA. Burn it to the ground.

    And scatter the ashes to the most remote places on earth, just to be sure.

    • art thiel

      So how do you really feel, dingle?

  • Ken S.

    The NCAA would probably like to stall this legislation long enough to figure out how they can make a buck out of this.

    • art thiel

      The proposed 2023 implementation gives the NCAA time to get serious. We’ll see if California pols scared the crap out of them.