Professionalization versus Commercialization
Last week I blogged about the new law in California that changes the rules of the game with respect to college athletes being able to earn money from the use of their names or likeness as well as through endorsement deals. The law, Fair Pay to Play, goes into effect in 2023. It would allow student-athletes to hire agents to represent them, promote products, enter sponsorship arrangements, etc. There are many ethical issues I address in this blog that arise from the new law. The NCAA should take notice as it grapples with these kinds of issues. There is no doubt other states will look at the California law so fleshing out these issues now is important.
Here is a partial list of considerations.
- How can we build fairness into the system so students in all collegiate sports at an institution share in the revenue pie?
- How can we ensure that gender equality exists in determining shares to male and female athletes? This is a requirement of Title IX with respect to equal access.
- Should we limit the endorsements or should athletes be able to enter into arrangements with no limitation? Do we want them endorsing products like alcohol, tobacco and e-cigarettes?
- Should there by any limits on how they monetize/market themselves on social media. Should they be allowed to have a You Tube channel, for instance?
- Who will oversee the arrangement made between the institution and student-athlete for revenue-sharing? Is there a role for the NCAA to play to ensure the colleges play by the rules just as they do now with respect to recruiting athletes, payments to them, and institutional behavior?
There are other issues as well but, to me, the main concern is whether the goal behind laws like that in California, and the issue of allowing student-athletes to participate in the revenue pie, should be guided by principles of professionalization and/or commercialization?
The professionalization of these arrangements would mean we treat being a student-athlete as having a job. They could even form a union to represent their interests. This is not unheard of as graduate teaching and research assistants in some colleges have formed unions that bargain for benefits and fair treatment.
Commercialization, on the other hand, means these athletes would become involved in bringing a product to market. Their names and likenesses might be used for marketing purposes. They could become spokespersons for a product or service.
It is in this category that having an agent makes most sense. However, I believe there need to be common sense limits to being able to commercialize as mentioned above. For example, student-athletes should be able to earn some money from the sale of their jerseys and get a cut of revenue from ticket sales and television deals. After all, the public is not going to the games or watching them on television to see the coach, coach. It’s to see the players in action.
Assuming arrangements are made for some kind of revenue-sharing, I believe there needs to be a trust or custodian account set up for the benefit of the student-athlete so they don’t use their money unwisely. Just how this would be done is an issue for a later time. But, athletes have to be protected against those who might want to take advantage of them now that they earn some money from their athletic activities.
I’m not a fan of wealth distribution where the large money earners (i.e., Clemson and Alabama football programs) have a part of their revenues redistributed to smaller colleges. Each school would have dominion only over the revenues earned by its sports programs. Admittedly, this could have unintended consequences where a student-athlete who otherwise might go to a small market college decides to a go to a bigger school because they can earn more money. So be it. I see it as a supply and demand issue.
The good thing about the California law is the effective date allows more than three years to go by during which time the NCAA and colleges can debate the issues and, hopefully, come up with a national solution to the revenue sharing problem.
Posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on October 8, 2019. Dr. Mintz recently published a book, Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior, that explains how doing the right thing and being a good person can enhance well-being. The book is available on Amazon. Visit his website, sign up for his newsletter, follow him on Facebook and “Like” his page.