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  • The college football world was full of gut reactions this week in the hours after Newsom signed the bill. Here’s a look at comments from coaches at schools in eight difference conferences.
By Joan Niesen
October 02, 2019

On Monday, California governor Gavin Newsom signed into law California SB 206, also known as the Fair Pay to Play Act. The bill will allow athletes in the state to profit off of their names, images and likenesses, beginning in 2023—meaning that in less than four years, college athletes will be able to sign with agents and earn endorsement deals and sponsorships. Between now and then, the NCAA will hem and haw on the matter and potentially make some changes to its current system, so that maybe, possibly, the world won’t turn upside-down on Jan. 1, 2023.

It’ll be a long road, and probably a confusing one, between now and then. More and more states seem ready to pass legislation similar to California’s, further complicating the matter and potentially forcing the NCAA’s hand. And no matter the drawn-out timeline, the college football world was full of gut reactions this week in the hours after Newsom signed the bill. 

The NCAA released a statement. So did the Pac-12. To no one’s surprise, neither of these incredibly wealthy governing bodies liked SB 206 much at all. Farther down the chain of command, though, the bill did get some support from coaches during their weekly media availabilities on Monday and Tuesday—though not all of the coaches who spoke found it a positive development, or even understood the legislation. Here’s a look at comments from coaches at schools in eight difference conferences (and one Independent), staring with the coaches who said a whole lot of nothing:

Washington’s Chris Petersen: “I don’t know how all this is going to go. Luckily, it’s not a problem I have to solve. So, good luck.”

“I mean, they’ve got to get it figured out. … You’ve got to have some rules to play by, so hopefully they come up with the rules to play by. I don’t know. I don’t have anything to do with this. They’re not asking me for advice on any of this stuff.” 

Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher: “It’s really going to change how things are done, that’s for sure. I’m anxious to see what the next step the NCAA takes, and then we’ll have to make the accountable adjustments of what goes on. But that is definitely a game-changer, and I’m going to have to sit back and think through that. I’m glad it happened on an off week for the future of what’s going to happen.” 

Thank goodness California’s legislative bodies kept Texas A&M’s schedule in mind. Maybe Fisher will have more thoughts at the end of the bye week. In the meantime, let’s move on to another coach, known for saying nothing, who in this case said next-to-nothing—but brought a measured perspective in the process:

Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly: “For me, I stay in the present and don’t get too far ahead of myself, and [the bill takes effect] four years down the road. So I think if it was next year, I’d probably have some more formulated opinion on it. Four years allow for a lot of maneuvering, if you will, relative to negotiations and talking back and forth amongst the NCAA and universities. So I think there’s plenty of time for dialogue. I don’t need to comment on something that is that far down the line.”

Other coaches said a bit more than nothing, but barely:

Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley: "Well, it's going to impact us if it does in fact happen. I know it's several years before it goes into effect. It'll be interesting to see. I don't know that I've put a ton of thought around it right now. 

"Hopefully all these individual states, and different people making decisions—governing bodies, our government, anybody that's involved—I would hope that for the sake of sports and all that's good with college sports that everybody doesn't just think about themselves or try to win a vote or this or that. I hope everybody really thinks about the big-picture view of this because this is a big deal, obviously. We have a great thing going. and hopefully don't screw it up." 

Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald: “There’s a lot of things that I look at our guys and say, ‘I wish I could do this’ or ‘I wish I could do that. Someday maybe we will be able to. But that list has gone down exponentially.”

“I just really, really hope it’s not just for football and basketball. That, I do know. Because I think that would really change what college sports is all about.” 

Fitzgerald’s comment about football and basketball is somewhat confusing; the California law covers college athletes in the state and says nothing about the sport they play. Yes, football and basketball are the biggest revenue-generating sports, so such players would likely have more opportunities to profit off of their names, images and likenesses—but nowhere in this legislation is there any limitation on which athletes would stand to benefit. Let’s move on, then, to the couple of coaches who seemed open to a system in which players might receive something, in terms of benefits or, in some cases, compensation:

Texas’s Tom Herman: “I have been on record as saying I do believe that we need to find a way to get student-athletes more for their name, image and likeness, but I don’t know the specifics of all that’s going on in California.”

Herman had previously addressed the subject several times, including on his weekly talk show last month, where he said: “They own [their name, image and likeness], and we don't own it, and they need to be able to use it like anybody. Just like the first-chair trombonist in the jazz band, he can he can go use his name, image and likeness all he wants and promote 'Johnny's Trombones' if he wants to.” 

Toledo’s Jason Candle: “Obviously, it's a slippery slope. We are not professional sports. We are amateur athletics. ... But I also understand the other side of that part of it, too. I don't think it's right that a young man's jersey can be sold for millions of dollars, and he doesn't get a dime for it. I don't think that's right. The truth lies in between there somewhere, and there is a happy medium that we need to continue to work towards and find some common ground and figure out.”

Oregon’s Mario Cristobal: "I certainly believe that in any way that we can help the student-athletes, I think it’s our obligation, our responsibility. We certainly do a lot for them here. I know what it’s like; I’ve been there. I don’t know enough about… what the rules are, what the format is for that. I’m all for making sure that we maximize what they can benefit or how they can benefit.”

LSU’s Ed Orgeron: “I believe the players should get as much as they possibly can. Am I for paying the players? No. But if there's a system where we can get these guys what they deserve without getting salaries… I’m all for that.”

The brother of a California coach had some thoughts, though much of what he describes is pretty tangential, if unrelated, to the bill at hand: 

Western Kentucky’s Tyson Helton: “I think there’s plenty of time for both groups to get together and figure out the logical conclusion to what needs to happen here. I’m pretty sure there will be plenty of time for bold statements and people to make fools of themselves at press conferences when it comes to these things.”

“I think it’s going to change. I think it was something that was going to happen… eventually. I think the NCAA is smart to give itself a couple years to figure out the best way to address it. If you’re asking my opinion, I don’t think it needs to be isolated to one person. I think the beauty of college sports is, it’s like the broadcasting contracts. Every conference sees a pool of money from that. I don’t think you can say, hey—you’re only really talking, in my opinion, about 10 players in all of college football that are worthy of doing that. I can remember Sam Darnold’s jersey selling for $150 a pop. Well, there’s not very many men out there where that’s going to happen. So in my opinion, there’s about 10 of them. I think that should be all pooled together, and that should be broken up within conferences… so everybody sees that money. Maybe it increases the cost-of-living check or the scholarship check for your student-athletes. I do think that’s a good thing. I think if you get into a deal where you’re talking about just one particular person receiving money, then all the sudden, you’ve opened Pandora’s box, and you might as well be playing professional sports.”

A note on Helton’s comments: The NCAA didn’t “give itself a couple year to figure out the best way to address” the bill. The bill just simply doesn’t take effect until 2023. Also, what he’s describing sounds a lot like the money coming from (or being filtered through) schools, or at baseline, schools being involved—which, again, is missing the point of the bill, which has nothing to do with schools paying athletes.

That same confusion arises again here:

Nebraska’s Scott Frost: “That’s awfully political, and I don’t want to get into it too much. I just hope that college football and college athletics survive in a way that provides opportunities for all students that want to compete. I think there’s obviously some points that could be made for athletes being compensated for all the work they put in. I hope it doesn’t destroy opportunities and competitive balance and other things that make our sports fun to watch and what they are. It’s a slippery slope, and I hope there are smart people who can navigate so that it can end up in a good place.

“Once you start paying a football player, you have to pay every student-athlete. That’s an awfully big drain on our budget, depending on how much gets paid. I’m not sure there are a lot of places that can afford that kind of commitment. I think it really puts the fabric of where college athletics are right now in a precarious position.”

Frost misses the point of the bill entirely and fully conflates what California legislated with the concept of schools paying players. He mentions school budgets being drained, which wouldn’t occur under the terms of the bill; only the budgets of companies looking to partner with players for endorsements would see any effect. 

And finally, one California coach gave the bill something like a ringing endorsement:

UCLA’s Chip Kelly: “I think it’s the right thing to do. It doesn’t cost the universities, it doesn’t cost the NCAA, and what it did before is it put restrictions on athletes and it no longer does and I think it’s progress. You know, the Olympics used to just be for amateurs. The Olympic model changed over time, so I would imagine the NCAA model has to change over time.”

Also of note: Prior to the bill being signed into law, a few coaches weighed in on the looming legislation, offering everything from the Mike Leach soliloquy you’ve probably already memorized to some pretty resounding support from Willie Taggart and Randy Edsall.

Washington State’s Mike Leach: "I do think if everybody's not given—in other words, if you're creating a recruiting advantage beyond what already exists, I think it's going to be very difficult. I think there will be a huge imbalance and you'll destroy college football."

"The state of California has trouble keeping their streets clean right now. So my thought is that they probably ought to focus on that. That's just one man's opinion. I'm sure I'm probably wrong. But at the rate that California's handling their infrastructure and some of their other problems, I think we'll see how they do with that before I really think it would be that beneficial for the legislature in California to enter into college football." 

Florida State’s Willie Taggart: “I think it's a helluva bill. Whatever we can do to better and help our student-athletes is always a good thing. If they can profit from their likeness, I think that's fair.

“I mean, it's a new time. We don't live where we used to live. We don't live there anymore. Times are different. You always hear people talk about doing what's best for the student-athlete. We always do what's best for them. I think them profiting from their likeness is good. I do think they should get it when they graduate. I think that's the ultimate goal when you go off to school is to graduate, and I think personally -- and I think we all know, we all graduated from school knowing that that's when you need the money the most was when you graduate.”

UConn’s Randy Edsall: “I hope every state in the union passes the bill. I hope the governor signs it in California, and I know South Carolina is doing something about it. I wish Connecticut would do something about it.”

“The NCAA’s not going to do anything. They’ll screw it up if they have to, anyway, just like everything else.”

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