Arizona Gov. Ducey Open To Compensation For College Athletes — But Not Like In California

By Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services
Published: Saturday, September 21, 2019 - 5:05am
Updated: Saturday, September 21, 2019 - 8:55am

Gov. Doug Ducey said Friday that he's open to some form of compensation for college athletes — but nothing like the bill approved by California lawmakers.

But he conceded that Arizona may be forced to look at the issue to ensure that colleges here can continue to attract talent if the California measure becomes law — especially if there isn't a nationwide solution first.

The measure awaiting the signature of California Gov. Gavin Newsom would not allow colleges to pay athletes, a model that has been considered from time to time. Instead, it would allow students themselves to hire state-licensed agents who could get them contracts for endorsements and sponsorships.

On one hand, Ducey said these athletes do get a college education. "They're getting a full-ride scholarship,'' he said. "So that is compensation to a certain degree.''

Still, he acknowledged, that doesn't cover other costs. "I do have concern for students who can't get back and forth to where they grew up, and that their parents can't participate,'' the governor said.

And then there's the fact that colleges do financially benefit from revenues from sporting events. "I understand there is an incredible amount of money that's being generated by these athletes,'' he explained. "I do think there probably is an equitable, more equitable way to do it.''

Still, there's a limit to how far Ducey is willing to go beyond some additional dollars, saying such a measure raises difficult questions.

"How do you determine who is the superstar athlete versus the newcomer, and some of the inequities that make this sport so special, that make it college sports versus professional sports?'' he asked.

The measure sitting on Newsom's desk would bar California educational institutions from keeping students from participating in intercollegiate athletics solely because of that person being paid for the use of his or her name, image or likeness. It also says such earnings "shall not affect the student's scholarship eligibility.''

More to the point, it seeks to prohibit the NCAA and any other athletic association or conference from keeping a student or that student's college from participating in intercollegiate athletics.

The measure has drawn predictable criticism from the NCAA which, in a letter to Newsom, said the measure would be both "unconstitutional'' and "harmful.'' Key, the letter says, is it "gives those schools an unfair recruiting advantage'' over colleges elsewhere where students would not be able to earn outside cash.

That economic advantage is of concern to Ducey. "Of course, Arizona will want to remain competitive,'' he said. One solution, the governor said, would be to have this addressed at a national level rather than "allowing a governor to put his state in a position where it leaves other states noncompetitive.''

Ducey said that could be handled by the NCAA.

That organization already has formed a committee to consider rules regarding compensation for athletes for use of their name, image and likeness. That panel is supposed to report its findings with NCAA's board of governors next month.

The California legislation has an escape clause of sorts: It does not take effect until 2023, giving lawmakers a chance to review what the NCAA eventually enacts.

California state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, the author of the bill, said in a statement she is unconcerned about the NCAA's claim of unconstitutionality and a possible legal challenge. She said that any ban of California colleges from competition would be "a clear violation of federal anti-trust law.''

Ducey on Friday stressed that he's not closing the door on the concept that athletes should share in the financial benefits of intercollegiate sports. "I did say that there's an equitable way to do this,'' he said.

The key, Ducey said, is finding that balance. "There probably is a better way in terms of handling these revenues,'' the governor explained. "But I think it should be thoughtful because we don't want to lose the specialness of something that's uniquely American in terms of college athletics.''

There already are some exceptions to NCAA rules prohibiting students from getting more than free tuition, room and board.

Tennis players can receive up to $10,000 a year in prize money before or during college from the sponsor of the event. And athletes can get expenses paid by the U.S. Olympic Committee for training, coaching, equipment, insurance, travel and room and board.

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