Thursday, May 28

Student-athletes work and play hard and SB 206 will ensure they’re compensated

Low-income student-athletes commit all their time on campus to their sports along with academics. Senate Bill 206 can grant them much needed financial stability during their collegiate careers. (Daily Bruin file photo)

College athletes occupy a special place in the hearts of students and NCAA fanatics, and the pride of countless universities seems to depend on them.

So it’s a shame they don’t earn what they’re worth.

Fortunately, the California state government is currently considering Senate Bill 206, which would give NCAA athletes the right to earn compensation for the use of their name, image or likeness – and allow them the right to sign with an agent. SB 206 passed the California State Assembly’s Committee on Higher Education in July, and will be up for assembly-wide consideration soon.

Previously, the NCAA has insisted on stringent guidelines regarding athletes’ ability to benefit financially from their talents for the sake of amateurism.

This bill is a vital step toward helping low-income student-athletes within the University of California, as well as historically underrepresented students in athletics. In one of the first major steps being taken to push back against the NCAA’s control over student-athletes, this bill could help ensure California college students have a better shot at reaching their full potential and achieving professional success.

For years, college athletes have performed in a university environment with little to show for it beyond statistical accolades and awards. In the 2016-2017 school year, NCAA revenue reached $1 billion, while UCLA itself generated $130,960,560 in revenue in 2017-2018. Mark Emmert, the president of the NCAA, earned around $3.9 million in total compensation in 2017.

For a nonprofit organization, the NCAA sure does rake in the cash.

Meanwhile, student-athletes are left on the sidelines without a single penny of that revenue. And as of now, some students can’t afford to play at all.

According to a 2018 UC Undergraduate Experience Survey, 86% of surveyed students at UCLA said they worried about their financial circumstances and debt at some point. With such a large percentage of the student population concerned about their financial well-being, there is no doubt these concerns loom heavy in the minds of college athletes.

Especially for low-income students committed to a Division I sport, there is little time between athletics and school to pick up a job – much less, a job that covers the costs of tuition.

Josh Rosen, a former UCLA quarterback, previously said playing football and keeping up with schoolwork is like trying to do two full-time jobs.

It seems that athletes should at least be paid for one of them.

“Technically they are working for their team, since they put in a lot of hours and effort,” said Michael Yang, a rising third-year political science student. “I feel like it’s unfair that they are not compensated for that.”

These players are under immense pressure to consistently perform at a high level, and they deserve to see a return on their work, especially when the chances of a college athlete making it to a professional league are minuscule.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a former UCLA and NBA basketball player, wrote a piece advocating for college athletes to be paid, saying that little has changed since he was a college athlete at UCLA and was so poor he could barely scrape by.

This bill would make sure that NCAA athletes at the UC and in California have the chance to achieve the financial stability they need to dedicate themselves to their work.

And low-income students aren’t the only athletes SB 206 will help.

Nancy Skinner, one of the state senators who introduced the bill, has said previously that allowing female athletes to market themselves will increase the attention and funding given to female sports, allowing them more opportunities in the professional world.

Brittany Legier, a rising third-year political science student, said she supports the state in pushing SB 206.

“I think California spearheads a lot of different initiatives and I’m pretty proud of California,” Legier said. “They need to make other people more aware of this situation and get a conversation started about it.”

With some of the most successful athletic programs in the history of the NCAA, the state has the power – and the schools – to set national precedent in the age-old debate over student-athlete compensation.

Unfortunately, the UCs have taken the NCAA bait.

UCLA could not be directly reached for comment for this column, instead referring to the letter the UC sent in opposition to the bill.

The letter states that this bill would put “athletics programs at risk of losing NCAA and conference eligibility, which would result in the loss of educational benefits and other competitive opportunities for UC student-athletes.”

It is clear the UC is more intent on cowering to the NCAA instead of standing up for their student-athletes.

And this is not the time to cower.

As it stands, the NCAA holds the fate – and the finances – of thousands of students in its pocket. If passed, SB 206 will protect student-athletes from the current exploitation by California schools that exists under the NCAA’s rules, and provide them a platform for future success.

Understandably, people have their reservations about this bill and the problems it could cause. The NCAA has threatened to impose penalties on the UC, and this loss in revenue might force the UC to respond in ways that harm students in order to make ends meet.

But potential revenue loss seems a small price to pay in order to break down barriers that have long disadvantaged students from professional prosperity.

After all, student-athletes are worth their weight in gold.

It’s time we start treating them like it.

Opinion columnist

Raychawdhuri is an Opinion columnist.

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