The Ever-Changing Landscape of College Athletics

November 7, 2019

The year was 1987. SMU (Southern Methodist University) had won 3 Southwest conference titles since the turn of the decade, fielded two of the nation’s best running backs in Eric Dickerson and Craig James (also known as the “Pony Express” ) and were a consistent contender for a national championship year in and year out.

Following the 1986 season, however, SMU was found to have committed NCAA violations that would prove to be more costly than anyone could have imagined. The Mustangs received the Death Penalty, which means that their football program was not allowed to partake in games or practices for a year, which in turn caused the program to have to withhold from playing the next year as well. After the two-year hiatus, SMU never recovered. Rebuilding a program from scratch caused them to not make a bowl game until 2009, and they never came close to reaching their prior levels of success (until, of course, the 2019 team took the field).

What did they do exactly, to incite the ultimate wrath of the NCAA? After all, that was the only time the Death Penalty has ever been put into effect, and it will likely never happen again.

The answer is simple. Among other violations, the school created a slush fund for players and families that would attend SMU. Paying collegiate athletes has been a taboo subject for most of the NCAA’s history, as college athletes already receive a full college tuition and added benefits.

However, recently, talks have opened up about the rights that collegiate athletes should and should not have. Many have labeled the NCAA as a “corrupt” and “selfish” organization that takes advantage of student-athletes that rake in millions of dollars for the organization’s benefit. 

For example, UCF punter Donald De Le Haye created a popular Youtube channel that documented his life as a college athlete. Once the NCAA saw it had gained traction, they delivered an ultimatum to De Le Haye: Take down the channel, or lose your scholarship and stop playing football. The moral of the story: players are not allowed to make any revenue off of their likeness or names and virtually have less freedom than any other student attending a university.

Loopholes have been found and then closed up, and punishments have been dealt out. All through this time, growing concerns over the rights of student-athletes have led to many becoming upset with the way the NCAA is run. At long last, someone outside of the NCAA stepped up and defied their rules with a proposed bill.

On September 30th, California governor Gavin Newsom signed the Fair Pay To Play Act into law, which allows college athletes within the state of California to sign agents and be paid for endorsements starting in 2023. An outpouring of support for the new law has prompted states such as Florida, New York and Illinois to follow suit, and with the advantage those schools will receive in recruiting and national appeal, every state will want to pass the law to keep pace.

Athletes such as LeBron James have expressed their approval of the Act, as it finally allows for college athletes to benefit from making billions of dollars for the NCAA. However, some believe that there are some drawbacks.

Former Florida quarterback and Heisman Trophy Winner Tim Tebow claimed that the bill would ruin college athletics as a whole. Tebow cited how this law would ruin the structure of college sports, as it would remove some of the pride athletes have in their university and team and instead, would make the college game more self-centered, like the NFL. Tebow’s opinions received plenty of backlash, but it is apparent that there are some possible side effects to giving these collegiate athletes more economic freedom.

Regardless, the Fair Pay To Play Act is being put in motion, and in the near future, college football stars being featured in commercials and advertisements, benefitting from jersey sales and profiting off of their own sports camps will become the new norm. 

The NCAA, which has been widely-criticized for their unfair and almost dictator-like policies, has at last given in to the masses. The board unanimously voted last Tuesday to allow college athletes to profit from their names, images and likeness. They have promised to immediately begin changing their rules, while also still keeping the boundary between college and professional sports well-defined.

So, to many, including myself, this is a great step in the right direction. Never before have college players had more rights, and it will benefit both the athletes and the general public (sports camps, NCAA video games, named jerseys, etc). This change will make people take collegiate athletics more seriously, and will also allow players that come from low-income situations to support both themselves and their families. The NCAA now needs to turn their words into action, which is a thing that many people still doubt they will do.

However, the line needs to be drawn here. Possible salaries or payment directly from colleges or the NCAA will essentially begin the downfall of college sports and blur the lines between the levels of sports. In this sense, I agree with Tebow. Creating contracts and wages in college would ruin the uniqueness of this level of play and the pride that comes with playing for the name on your chest.

The NCAA’s recent ruling is the product of years of fighting and hardship from a wide array of people, and it has finally come to fruition. Some argue that this could spell the downfall of collegiate athletics, but I believe this is the beginning of a golden age.

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