Mark Emmert may claim his members feel threatened by California’s Fair Pay to Play Act, but it’s his members that are doing the threatening right now.
Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith, who is co-chairing the working group, told USA TODAY Sports this week that if Newsom signs the bill, the uncertainty surrounding a potential difference between California law and NCAA rules would prompt him – for now — not to schedule games against California schools for dates after Jan. 1, 2023, because he does not see how they could remain NCAA members unless differences between the law and the NCAA’s rules can be resolved…
“If the California law goes into effect in ’23,” Smith said Tuesday, “and let’s say the NCAA legislation, how ever it emerges, doesn’t quite meet what California wants it to be and they continue to hold that law, who’s going to play (California schools)? We’re certainly not. They won’t be members of the NCAA. I think that’s going to be the problem.”
Smith said that if Newsom signs the bill, schools in California are “going to have a model where they can almost pay for play – not quite – but I think they’re going to be challenged to maintain their membership in the association because, as an association, we have the authority as a group to make our own rules and regulations, and they will be outside those rules and regulations. So, I’m not quite sure how they will stay in the association.”
This is straight out of the Jim Delany “if it becomes lawful to pay players, the Big Ten will go D-III, sumbitches” playbook. Last time I checked, the COA stipend passed and Big Jim’s conference is still cashing those checks. (So did Big Jim himself, for that matter. But I digress.)
The idea that the NCAA is going to walk away from the fifth-largest economy in the world — and that’s assuming no other legislature follows California’s lead here, which is something I wouldn’t bet on — is as silly as Delany’s threat was. Mainly, because as Smith himself clearly indicates, his bunch has no idea right now how to counter what’s coming.
“My guess is our membership would say yes because one of our principles is fair play, and even in the working group that I’m on, we’re focused on trying to make sure we deal with this in a fair-play way – as best as we can have a level playing field. We know it’s unlevel in a lot of ways, but this could make it unbelievably unlevel.
“So, my position would be, yes, and actually I would really be interested in how the Pac-12 (Conference) will handle those schools who are not in California that are members of the Pac-12. And how those schools will compete against those schools in California who have an unfair advantage because they’ll be able to offer student-athletes benefits that the other schools will not be able to offer. So, yeah, my position would be we walk. … [Emphasis added.]
“What’s fortunate is we have till 2023, and I’m hopeful that once our working group completes its work and the association goes through next year, we can get to a point where we mitigate this. But if it stands as it is, and other states create similar legislation, then we’ve got a big issue. We really do.”
The amusing part here is that Smith concedes (1) the playing field in college athletics isn’t fair already and (2) the players are being denied tangible benefits currently and that granting those would result in an unfair advantage to California schools, which means he winds up in the exact same place California’s governor does when he says, “… it perpetuates a cycle of inequality and a lack of equity”. The first, do no harm solution is pretty obvious here, but these guys claim they’re stubborn enough to resist taking that approach.
They’re going to wind up getting everything they deserve when the dust settles.