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Gonzaga’s Roth, WSU’s Leach express concern with California law giving athletes profiting rights

Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth favors student-athletes receiving more than what NCAA rules currently allow, but he has strong reservations if that involves profiting off their name, image and likeness, (NIL).

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday signed into law the Fair Pay to Play Act, a potential game-changer that gives student-athletes an opportunity to earn money from their NIL while retaining collegiate eligibility.

Numerous athletic administrators, including Roth, anticipate some form of legal challenge long before the law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2023.

“I personally do feel student-athletes deserve more than what is presently allowed, but once we go down this path of NIL, my fear is we’re professionalizing it and I really have a fear that professionalization will destroy college athletics. I don’t think people will view it the same way as they view college athletics now.”

Roth said he “sees this can with all kinds of worms emerging from it.” He wonders how student-athletes’ NIL agreements would be regulated. He worries about the potential of bidding wars for standout recruits in high-profile sports like football and basketball.

“My fear is schools that are willing to push the envelope will continue to do so and this way have a very clear and easy way to do it,” he said. “They work it out with a benefactor or a booster, ‘Hey we’re going to need you to pay this kid so much a year’ to put his picture in the window of their business and it becomes a bidding war at that point.”

Still, the Fair Pay to Play Act could force the NCAA to address its long-standing amateurism rules. The NCAA, which has a committee studying ways to increase compensation to student-athletes, acknowledged as much in a statement released Monday morning:

“The NCAA agrees changes are needed to continue to support student-athletes, but improvement needs to happen on a national level through the NCAA’s rules-making process. Unfortunately, this new law already is creating confusion for current and future student-athletes, coaches, administrators and campuses, and not just in California.

“We will consider next steps in California while our members move forward with ongoing efforts to make adjustments to NCAA name, image and likeness rules that are both realistic in modern society and tied to higher education.”

The Pac-12 Conference issued a statement, noting California’s new law “will have very significant negative consequences for our student-athletes and broader universities in California.”

Several states are reportedly close to proposing bills similar to the Fair Play to Play Act. UCLA football coach Chip Kelly supported the new law, in part because it doesn’t cost anything for universities or the NCAA. Roughly 77 percent of college basketball coaches were in favor of student-athletes having the right to profit off their NIL, according to a CBS Sports poll.

Count Washington State football coach Mike Leach among those who think the Fair Pay to Play Act could create an unfair playing field.

“If you create a recruiting advantage beyond what already exists I think it’s going to be very difficult,” Leach said at a Sept. 16 news conference. “I think there will be a huge imbalance and you’ll destroy college football and I think you’ve got to be very careful of that. The other thing, if you can do stuff like that, surely if you don’t like the way the guy’s portraying something, you should be able to cut him on the spot pretty much, I would think.

“Then of course, are we going to have a draft, then are we going to have trading, then are we going to have free agency? I mean, how far does all this stuff go?”

Good question. Here’s another: How much money would former WSU quarterback Gardner Minshew or former Gonzaga stars Kevin Pangos, Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura have made off their NIL had the rules permitted it?

“Think about that locally and extrapolate it internationally with Rui,” Roth said. “Rui might be taking a pay cut going to the NBA.”

The Fair Pay to Play Act puts California universities in an interesting position. There would be obvious recruiting benefits should athletes be allowed to make NIL money while schools in other states operate under the current set of rules.

However, the NCAA has suggested that California schools could be banned from postseason tournaments and playoffs. California schools also could have a tough time scheduling out-of-state opponents.

Roth has numerous concerns, unanswered at this point, if NIL becomes a reality, including the potential impacts on Title IX and state schools versus private universities.

“I’m not smart enough to know how to institute NIL and at the same time not have it be this can of worms,” Roth said. “Is this next piece going to flip it to a point, and this is my fear, people aren’t interested in watching 18-year-olds that are now professional athletes representing a college. At that point, are they just wearing a uniform?”

Roth is certain one group of professionals will benefit in the aftermath of California’s new law.

“There’s going to be some attorneys making some money on this one,” he said. “It’s going to be battled out in court. We’ll see how hard the NCAA decides to fight.”

Spokesman-Review reporter Theo Lawson contributed to this story.

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