CHARLOTTE — The sky is falling. Or the earth is rising.
It depends on your perspective.
That’s generally been the reaction to the California ruling that college athletes have the right to profit from their name, image and likeness.
The so-called Fair Pay to Play Act has sent a shockwave through college athletics. At the ACC Operation Basketball, where the league’s coaches and select players are gathered for the annual media day, the ruling was the topic of the day.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski spent much of his morning explaining his take on it, going so far as releasing a statement.
Suffice to say, he likes it. Most everyone else seems to shrug it off as inevitable. Almost no one sees it as the budding disaster we once associated with paying college athletes. Still, no one is on the same page with it, and therein lies the problem.
“All this stuff is good that’s happening,” Krzyzewski said. “Then what we do with it? I don’t have that answer. But the fact that it’s all happening I think is right. It was going to come. I just hope we react accordingly.”
That sort of flies in the face of the reaction from ACC commissioner John Swofford, who called the ruling “extreme” and warned that it could lead to the erosion of the amateur model. But even Swofford seems to have softened his stance from recent years, saying today that he’s keeping an open mind.
Last week, Big Ten conference commissioner Jim Delany took the opposite stand.
“We’re not in the minor leagues,” he said.
Actually, that’s exactly where we seem to be headed.
California became the first state to allow college athletes to sign endorsement deals, hire agents and cash in while maintaining their eligibility. Lawmakers in Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Florida and, yes, North Carolina, are considering following California’s lead.
Meanwhile, conferences such as the Pac-12 and the NCAA itself have come out in opposition of the bill.
There are indeed serious questions on both sides of the argument, and no one has answers.
Are we turning college athletes into employees? Can they be taxed for any money they make? Can they be fired?
Doesn’t this invite boosters into the game? Can’t we envision a local businessman offering a player, say UNC forward Walker Miller from Greensboro, a chance to make money by appearing at a car dealer or grocery store to sign autographs for cash?
Miller said last week a more likely scenario would be someone like his better-known teammate, freshman Cole Anthony, making money off the No. 2 UNC jerseys already on sale in Chapel Hill. As the rule is now, Anthony won’t make a dime from the sales.
“That does kind of suck for him,” Miller said. “Some people are going to profit off what he does on the court, and he should probably get some of that.”
Anthony said he’s thought about it and wishes the situation was already settled.
“It will be nice,” he said. “But it’s a process. I’m not going to question it.”
Anthony will likely be long gone by the time North Carolina lawmakers decide whether our athletes will remain college students or employees of the university or the local car dealer.
Carolina coach Roy Williams said he’s mostly confused about it.
“I have no idea,” the UNC coach said. “It’s so dadgum complicated, and it’s not coming until 2023. Hell, I just hope I’m alive in 2023. I hope I’m still teeing it up.”
Williams has never been a proponent of paying players, but he’s always been in favor of someone like Anthony being able to get a cut from jersey sales.
“Before Peyton Manning’s first game at Tennessee, they sold like 50,000 jerseys at $76, and Peyton Manning didn’t get one cent,” he said. “That’s not right.”
He said players today have it better than players in the past, from meals and per diem money and cost of attendance, but he said there’s always going to be change and while it’s not always good, it always takes time.
“We’re in the United States of America, and there’s a lot of things going on that are wacko, but it takes some time to change them,” Williams said.
Somewhere in there is a message. From the Duke coach supporting the change to Jim Boeheim of Syracuse having reservations about vetting agents, there’s a lot of work to do between now and North Carolina possibly jumping in to allow college athletes to become independent contractors.
Deep down, we know this won’t go smoothly. And don’t think for a second that the ACC or the NCAA or college athletics in general will be doing this in a vacuum.
“Don’t be shocked if four or five years from now there’s G-League on TV, and maybe our collegiate product is being challenged not just by the NBA,” Krzyzewski warned. “We need to not have our head in the sand. We’ve had our head in the sand a lot.”
So this is the first volley in what will be a fight to the death. The death of the amateur athlete? The death of the NCAA? The death of innocence?
It’s all on the table now that California has jumped without first seeing where it would land.
Sadly, it’s going to land in North Carolina one way or the other. We’ll see whether the collision occurs in the courts or on campus.
Or in a parking lot of the local car dealer.