Sports Media’s Support of California’s Insane New College Sports Law Will Kill Their Own Golden Goose
As a long-time resident of California, the only thing that should be more inherently distrusted than a new law coming out of this formerly Golden State is one that gets passed with no opposition, and with nearly full media and celebrity support. By that standard, the law just signed by California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, while taping the television show of NBA superstar LeBron James, is likely the worst in recent history.
The law in question would allow, starting in 2023, all college athletes in the state to profit from their name and likeness, and even hire agents, without losing their eligibility to play. The premise of the law is that, since many — but not most — colleges make huge amounts of money from the labor of these athletes, they should also be able to be compensated for the value they are creating.
To a person with a third-grade mentality, this idea obviously appeals to our basic sense of fairness, while also promoting a liberal and PC sense of “social justice” by appearing to help poor athletes who are very often people of color. If you look up Pandora’s Box or unintended consequences in the dictionary, however, you should find a copy of this insane and naïve law.
In the fantasy world of the law’s many promoters, what will happen here is that only the athletes who are truly getting “ripped off” (despite already receiving extremely valuable free educations and massive platforms from which to build future careers) will be able to rectify this “injustice” by taking advantage of what the “free market” will provide them. Specifically, the star players in football and basketball (the sports that traditionally pay for all the others to exist) who really are creating more value for their schools than what they are getting in return, will be able to get paid through endorsements, jersey sales, autographs, etc.
But this is NOT how things would actually go if this law (which the NCAA is planning to fight, but probably lacks the leverage to ultimately defeat) goes into effect. This would NOT be creating anything close to a “free market,” but rather a massive loophole through which some schools will be able to fit a Mack truck of corruption, while driving a stake through the heart of what once made college sports great.
Here is what will REALLY happen once this law inevitably goes national…
About 10-20 of the schools with the most rabid and affluent fan bases would immediately rig the system by dramatically overpaying even players with no real economic value, all so that they would be able to attract the very best athletes, even as second or third-string players. The backup punter on Alabama’s football team, or the 12th man on Duke’s basketball squad, would make far more money though contrived “endorsement” opportunities than the very best players at many of the schools against which they compete.
Consequently, the competitive disadvantage that the less prominent schools currently deal with because of their relative lack of prestige and championship opportunities, will be so exponentially increased as to make a complete mockery of the entire concept of a level playing field. Not only that, but top players will no longer attend a school because of affinity for that institution’s traditions, academics, or proximity to home, but rather based on which college has the best reputation for creating the most lucrative “fake endorsement” market for them to make money.
These unintended consequences would also be seen in “non-revenue” sports. Now, all it would take to be by far the best team in one of these sports is a local booster willing pay significant money for each member of that squad to “endorse” their company. Success in almost every college sport would be decided by who is the highest bidder at an auction.
The imagination runs wild with the very likely perverse and corrupt situations this law will create, and yet this reality has been completely lost in the media coverage of it. Only ESPN’s Tim Tebow, a former Heisman Trophy winner who would have made huge amounts of money at the University of Florida if this law had been in effect then, has spoken out passionately against it, and he was even mocked in some elements of the exceedingly liberal (not to mention endlessly snarky) sports media.
As a former television sportscaster who has dealt extensively with the sports media on a variety of stories in recent years, it has always baffled me just how incredibly liberal and politically correct the vast majority of sports media figures are. This reality has played a huge, and I believe, ultimately, a self-defeating role in how this law has faced no legitimate opposition in the sports media.
Liberals love the idea of free healthcare and a “living wage,” but often don’t comprehend that when you give away something for free people will use WAY more of it, and when workers are forced to be paid more than they are worth that fewer people will be hired. It is the same concept here, where what seems like a cool idea (hey, LeBron James, who never even went to college, loves it!) that feels good and fair is actually going to end up destroying what it pretends to be fixing. (To be clear, college sports does need reform, and there are ways that some athletes could be further compensated without incinerating what’s left of its soul, but this law is definitely NOT that.)
Ironically, I believe that the sports media will rue the day that they allowed this concept to gain so much traction. They currently get massive amounts of content and money from college athletics, but if this law is implemented as it is currently designed, eventually, in no more than a generation, college athletics, stripped of everything good that has made it fundamentally different from minor league sports, will cease to be nearly as popular, and the sports media will have effectively killed its own golden goose.
John Ziegler is a senior columnist for Mediaite. He hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.