- December 21, 2020
To pay or not to pay — that is the question.
It’s a question that has been asked since college athletics became big-time business.
The argument: “Why is the NCAA — which brings in $1 billion a year — allowed to profit off the backs of athletes, who are not given a dime for the use of their likeness in advertising sales?”
The question has gained the attention of legislators in multiple states. High school coaches and administrators also seek answers about how the possible changes could affect them.
Recently, California passed Senate Bill 206, informally titled the “Fair Pay to Play Act,” which allows college athletes in California to hire agents and be paid for endorsements.
“High school athletic directors and coaches, who presumably will act in a manner consistent with the mission of education-based athletics and in the best interests of young student-athletes, will be able to serve as a partial barrier against such exploitation of high school athletes,” said Lee Green, an attorney who specializes in sports law, in an article written for the National Federation of State High School Associations. “However, as has repeatedly been demonstrated over the years, scholastic athletic personnel are limited in their ability to hold back the tsunami of economic forces at work in the marketplace and will need extensive assistance from legislatures and state associations to enact safeguards to protect high school and middle school student-athletes.”
High school athletes and coaches are watching, because the inevitable trickle-down effect certainly will have ramifications at the local level.
Brad Lord, head football coach at Foundation Academy and a former collegiate athlete, has built a football powerhouse at the school and has sent numerous players to the collegiate level.
“I believe scholarship is payment … when I played and went on a scholarship, we were treated like kings,” Lord said. “(But) these kids nowadays, older people still think they get everything, but they don’t — they live on the skinny. If you’re a football player, your money might run out halfway through the month.”
Although Lord acknowledges the perks for college athletes, he knows it could have significant effects on himself and other high school coaches around the country — especially as it relates to recruiting and coaching in general.
“The recruiting world right now is crazy enough for these kids; that’s just going to add on another stage of craziness,” Lord said. “Now, how do you like being a high school coach, when you have a sophomore who gets an offer and who is going to get paid, and you’re trying to preach team and unity as a high school coach?
“It’s going be very hard for high school coaches, because again, even though it is a ‘me world’ now, times it by five when they get paid,” he said.
Of all issues that arise for coaches, recruiting — and sometimes questionable recruiting practices — is at the forefront.
Although the California bill is specifically for endorsements and signing with agents, the fear is that it could lead to collegiate players being paid by universities or conferences — and that includes standout freshmen. Although Ocoee basketball coach John “Sarge” Siers doesn’t have a problem with players being paid, he also believes athletes aren’t being taken advantage of given the amount of scholarships and Pell Grants that are given out.
His biggest concern is that with the lack of regulations and possible money differential between Power 5 schools and smaller conferences, the payment of players could affect how players choose their respective schools.
“It might change recruiting,” Siers said. “‘I might want to hold out and wait to go to a school that will pay me.’ But what is the pay going to be? Is $200 a week enough to change where you want to go to school? Is David Green not going to go to Hofstra if Hofstra and the CAA is not a league that is going to pay its players, and hold out for Wake Forest that pays $800 a month?”
Furthermore, who exactly would pay the money? The schools? The conferences? The state education boards? The NCAA?
There also is the issue of regulation and creating a balanced recruiting playing field, something Central Florida Christian Academy Athletic Director Kyle Wills believes the NCAA won’t be able to handle.
“If you’ve got bad intentions, you’re still going to find a way to act out those bad intentions,” Wills said. “I’m not so sure that the NCAA, or whoever is providing this money, are going to be able to regulate it in a way to make it fair. They struggle — because of lack of personnel — being able to regulate things now.”
Some coaches, including West Orange baseball coach Jay Welsh, endorse the idea of paying college athletes.
“The time is long overdue that college athletes receive some type of stipend,” Welsh said. “Being a former college athlete and coach myself, I understand the commitment that they put into athletics, which I feel goes far beyond the scholarship that they are given.”
Welsh said there must be oversight, but the additional money actually could help inspire younger athletes in middle and high school to work harder.
“It does have some trickle down, but I think it also gives them a greater incentive to succeed and find a spot at the next level,” Welsh said. “It will help them in terms of appreciating what they have once they reach that level.
“They understand that whatever it took for them to get to that university, they’re going to appreciate it so much more that they can have certain things that they don’t need to do anymore, because the college is going to take good care of them,” he said.
In high school, athletes do spend a lot of time bettering themselves in their respective sports, but they also have time to work part-time jobs — something that’s important to their growth as people, because it helps round them out and develop lifelong skills, Welsh said.
But once an athlete gets to college, it can be difficult to find that kind of school/workplace balance and learn the kinds of skills that help beyond college.
“They get a better chance at understanding what it takes — from a time-management standpoint — to succeed at the next level,” Welsh said. “I can guarantee you it’s going to be hard for them to do that at a major university, because you’re just not going to have the time to go out and maybe work at a restaurant or wait tables or work at Publix — and still be able to be competitive in your sport. It takes a rare breed to do that.”
Although the questions will remain for the foreseeable future, don’t expect there to be any answers soon, Welsh said. As high schools and universities in Florida — and around the country — keep a watchful eye on how amateurism will be redefined, there is one thing that is for sure: Over time, sports will change.
“I guess my opinion on the whole thing is it’s going to change how the sport we love operates now,” Wills said. “And I guess we’ll just see when it starts turning over.”