Lane Stadium

Lane Stadium in the fall, Oct. 30, 2019.

California State Legislature signed the “Fair Pay to Play” Act on Sept. 30, allowing student-athlete monetary compensation from the use of their name, image or likeness.

“Earning compensation from the use of a student’s name, image, or likeness shall not affect the student’s scholarship eligibility,” states Senate Bill No. 206, also titled the “Fair Pay to Play” Act.

The legislation is the first of its kind to reward student-athletes on the basis of their “likeness.” With California’s support, students who play at any California university, both public and private, are permitted to sign sponsorship contracts or other advertising deals to further bolster a student’s clout. Student-athletes are given certain restrictions under the new law. One major provision includes prohibiting student-athletes to sign a contract that conflicts with the athlete’s team prestanding contract.

Other states like Pennsylvania and Illinois are in the process of creating bills similar to California’s. The growing attention over student-athlete pay raises into question how other states plan to address the topic.

The state of Virginia does not currently have legislation in place that either denies or defends student-athlete pay. As a Virginia state school, Virginia Tech Athletics abide under NCAA regulations and adhere stringlently to these rules.

“An individual loses amateur status and becomes ineligible for intercollegiate competition if he/she uses his or her athletics skill, directly or indirectly, for pay in any form in that sport,” states the Virginia Tech Student-Athlete Handbook.

NCAA President Mark Emmert responded to the California bill saying, “as a national governing body, the NCAA is uniquely positioned to modify its rules to ensure fairness and a level playing field for student-athletes.”

In regards to student-athlete pay, the NCAA has permitted student-athletes to benefit from their name, image and likeness for the state of California despite established limitations elsewhere.

In the 2015-2016 academic year, Virginia Tech Athletics spent $14.4 million on scholarships to encourage student-athlete attendance. The Hokie Scholarship Fund, a prominent donor for student-athlete scholarships, have over 13,000 donors in 2018 helping the organization fundraise millions for students to play at Virginia Tech.

Some argue against student-athletes pay based on the amount of scholarships provided to prospective players and see opportunities to receive money for tuition, room and board, and books are available to select student-athletes, making postsecondary education more affordable as student-athlete compensation.

“I think that makes sense because you shouldn’t receive special treatment because you are an athlete,” said Ben Fleming, a junior majoring in management and member of the Virginia Tech cross country team. “It’s almost as if it (is) a job, but at the same time it’s only mandatory until it is not. Until you are not doing it.”

On the other hand, others believe student-athletes deserve part of the revenue collegiate athletic programs accumulate and that postsecondary institutions should be allowed to profit off of a student-athlete's name or popularity.

In the 2017–2018 Virginia Tech Athletic Department’s fiscal year report, all 22 athletic programs earned $98,485,395 in salary. The football team alone generated $57.6 million of the total 2017-2018 fiscal year.

With profiting broadcast rights and dependable ticket sales, collegiate sports is a viable revenue stream for many universities. Another pillar of the debate is merchandising and publicity benefits. Collegiate apparel that have players’ names printed on the backsides and student-athlete publicity instigates the question: who should reap the rewards?

Players for collegiate sports must wait until graduation to begin their professional career. Players are ineligible if one, “signs a contract or commitment of any kind to play professional athletics, regardless of its legal enforceability or any other consideration received,” according to Virginia Tech Student-Athlete Handbook. Additionally, the NCAA bars the acceptance of “promise of pay even if such pay is to be received following completion of intercollegiate athletics participation.”

“I think there should be some sort of pot you should be able to accept after college,” Fleming said on NCAA rules on student-athlete pay. “I still go back and forth about it because you are still technically winning the money in a sense. It doesn’t seem fair, but at the same time, it makes sense to get it at some point.”

The Virginia Tech Athletics Department declined to comment.

The “Fair Pay to Play” Act was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom and goes into effect Jan. 1, 2023.

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