Date: 03 FEB 2020

Author: Ted D. Davis; contact:

On Monday, September 30, 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 206, otherwise known as the Fair Pay to Play Act, which allows college athletes to, “profit from their name, image, and likeness”. Under the act, college athletes in the state of California can sign endorsement deals, earn money from the use of their name, likeness, or image, and enter licensing contracts that will compensate them. As a result, those players will be able to hire an agent to represent them in negotiating any contracts, a move that generally disqualifies them for the collegiate eligibility. The bill, which will go into effect in 2023, will no doubt transform a decades old National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) business model. NBA superstar LeBron James, who skipped college and entered the professional ranks directly from high school says, “This a game changer for student athletes and for equity in sports. Athletes at every level deserve to be empowered and to be fairly compensated for their work, especially in a system where so many are profiting off their talents”. At the time that it was passed, the only question was whether the NCAA would challenge the bill.

On Tuesday, October 29 of the same year, the NCAA Board of Directors voted in favor of the bill on the condition that its three Divisions, I, II, and III, decide on the rules governing athletes opportunities. While the board concedes that forming rules to govern the bill will be challenging, NCAA President Mark Emmert says that he thinks that, “schools are going to be able to work through this process and come up with rules that make sense for the student athletes and allow universities to continue their collegiate model of athletics”. The board has given its divisions until January 2021 to create rules. Among possible detractors, Republican Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina says that players who receive compensation from endorsements should have their scholarships taxed. He says that if athletes are going to receive income from likenesses and endorsement while competing for colleges, their scholarships “should be treated like income”. So if an athlete’s scholarships are to be taxed, who can afford the loss? What student/athletes don’t need the money?

In general, just over 2% of undergraduate students are awarded athletic scholarships. Of that percentage, roughly 63% are white, 23% African American, 9% Hispanic, and less than one 1% Asian. An examination of players whose families earn fifty thousand dollars per year or less, the baseline by which athletic scholarship recipients are examined, 48% of Caucasians, 77% of African Americans, and 71% of minorities overall receive athletic scholarships. That black families earn significantly less than the aforementioned fifty thousand dollars yearly implies that money is generally tighter and circumstances leaner in African American households. In 1953 the average black household earned slightly more than half of what the households earned, and by 2013 that gap had narrowed only slightly, to approximately 58% of what white households earn.

The primary reason why this disparity has held steady is the long-term effects of the 2007 housing market collapse. In a piece entitled Black income is half that of white households in the US – just like it was in the 1950s, reporter Gwynn Guilford reports that while the crisis hit all Americans hard regardless of race, and those effects have lingered it, “dealt a disproportionately big blow to black households finances, undoing the slight closing of the gap in the preceding years”.  Economist Edward Wolff points to two reasons why: One, for undisclosed reasons, black families were more likely to have borrowed more relative to home values and, two, home ownership tends to account for the largest portion of black wealth. As a result, when the crisis occurred black home owners suffered larger losses than white home owners did, reducing their net worth. It then makes sense that, though white college athletes need scholarships as much as minority athletes, black athletes are in greater need than white students, and that pay for play will be a major financial boon for both players of all races and their families. Again, however, the biggest impact could be felt in the black community.

Student athletes generate some fourteen billion dollars per year for their institutions and the NCAA. A study of the worth of athletes in specific sports shows University of Texas football players are valued at roughly five hundred fourteen thousand dollars per year, while Duke Basketball players are valued at just over one million dollars per year yet, “86 percent of college athletes live below the poverty line”. I could find no concrete numbers which verify how much student athletes could potentially earn from endorsement deals, but analysts on ESPN have said that the bigger the star the more the athlete could potentially earn. Numbers in the neighborhood of forty to fifty thousand dollars per year were thrown out, an amount that could greatly bolster their and their families financial conditions while they compete. To understand the value that that amount of money means to the average college athlete, the example of current NBA star Draymond Green serves as a microscope. In an October 2019 Fortune Magazine article, he told reporter Terry Collins that, “you spend so much time hella broke, with no money and yet, everyone else is living well”.

With this frame of reference at our disposal, I feel it appropriate to take a brief yet close look at a few athletes who could have benefited greatly from Bill 206 when they were student athletes in order to truly appreciate its impact:

Skip Dillard, Basketball, DePaul University 1979-1982

Skip was a star among stars at Chicago’s Westinghouse High School on the city’s impoverished, gang infested West side, a perennial basketball powerhouse throughout the mid to late 1970s and, fortunately, a breeding ground for college recruiters looking for the states top talent. He began his college career in the fall of 1978 at a Wyoming junior college. One year later he transferred to national top 5 college basketball power DePaul University, a team featuring future college player of the year and two-time NBA champion Mark Aguirre and NBA all-star Terry Cummings. Dillard and Aguirre were teammates at Westinghouse. After a three year career which distinguished him as a great perimeter shooter with limited ability to score off the dribble or make plays for others, he dropped out of school to enter the 1982 NBA draft. A ninth round draft pick of the Chicago Bulls, he never played an NBA game, instead bouncing around CBA teams until he found himself out of basketball. By 1987 he was addicted to cocaine, robbing gas stations to support his habit and, finally, in the September of that year, he was sentenced to eleven years in an Illinois prison for armed robbery. An incredibly popular player during his stint at DePaul, sales of his jersey (any DePaul jersey was in high demand at that time) might have prompted him to finish school, undeterred by lack of money.

Bernard Randolph, Basketball, DePaul University, 1979-1983

Skip’s teammate at DePaul and Westinghouse, Bernard entered DePaul as a gifted and high flying, yet extremely troubled forward. His beloved mother, Laura, died at age 48 when Bernard was in seventh grade. His father was often ill, two of his brothers died by 1979, his senior year of high school, and he was essentially homeless. He spent most of that senior year living with his coach, Tom Lollino. Though he averaged 25 points and 10 rebounds per game in 1979, even breaking Aguirre’s single game scoring record when he scored 50 points in a game, his coach referred to him as a, “two-quarter player” because wouldn’t use his talents for more than one half of play. He averaged fourteen points per game his senior year at DePaul and tantalized crowds with high flying dunks and sweet jump shots, but as a 6’5” forward who wasn’t sure ball handler, he was not projected highly on NBA draft boards. He was drafted in the tenth round, was eventually cut, and ended up on the streets. Discouraged, he quit school and ended up on the streets though he was reputed to have an IQ of 165. He eventually stole a taxi cab with the intention of driving it to a CBA tryout 40 miles from Chicago, led police on a high speed chase, and was arrested. How much would an income stream have helped him while he played college ball?

Allen Iverson, Basketball, Georgetown University, 1994-1996

Everyone knows how dynamic and successful the player who came to be known as “AI” became. He twice crossed over Michael Jordan, once causing him to nearly fall down as Allen then rose up for a jump shot that he sank all net. He crossed over Tye Lue, NBA winning coach of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who fell to the floor while Allen sank a gorgeous three-point field goal. At just under six feet tall and barely 165 pounds he was the NBA’s most valuable player in 2001, officially the shortest and lightest player to ever win the award, leading his franchise, the Philadelphia 76ers, to the NBA finals where it lost four games to one to the Los Angeles Lakers, led by recently deceased legend Kobe Bryant. Of guarding Allen Bryant famously said, “It’s like chasing a rabbit around”.

What many don’t know about Allen is that before all of the aforementioned success, he grew up in a poverty-stricken neighborhood in Hampton, Virginia in a home with this mother and two sisters in abject poverty. A dysfunctional sewer line ran under the house, it would often burst filling the house with a noxious smell and, on some occasions, raw sewage that would fill the floors. One writer described a scene when it burst and over a foot of putrid feces filled water filled the house. Allen and his sisters waited at home for their mother in those conditions, doing their homework and watching television. From 1994 until 1996 Allen stared at Georgetown University where he earned All-American honors, while his family continued to live in that home in Virginia. He and his family could certainly have benefitted from Bill 206.

De’Runnya Wilson, Football, Mississippi State University, 2013-2016

After a stellar career as a Power forward at Birmingham, Alabama’s Wenonah High School where he joined an all-star cast as a sophomore, winning the state championship, and won two more as the team’s star in subsequent season’s, he signed a football scholarship with Mississippi State University. As a 6’6” wide receiver, he teamed with current Dallas Cowboys star Quarterback Dak Prescott catching 122 passes for nearly 2,000 yards and 22 touchdowns in three seasons. In 2014 he helped the team achieve a national number one ranking before losing to the University of Alabama in a nationally televised game. Along the way, he and Prescott earned the distinction as the most prolific passer/receiver duo in school history. He left school after his junior season to enter the NFL draft, going undrafted, and later playing for the Chicago Bears practice squad.

Little has been said of the events of his life that followed his playing career, but on Tuesday, January 21, 2020 he was found shot to death in his working-class West Birmingham home. The twenty-five year old was a father of five. What if he had gone back to school finished his coursework, and graduated? While anything can happen in life, no one goes to college to end up living in the same working class community they emerged from. What if, while he was there, he’d had the option of signing an endorsement deal for a line of knee supports specifically designed for taller receivers, who are more susceptible to leg injuries from hits due to their height? The income might have prompted him to stay in school another year. The opportunity could well have meant he wasn’t in West Birmingham that night, which could have saved his life.

Forty or even fifty thousand dollars is hardly enough money to transform the lives of entire families, but for families who live at the bottom of the poverty line, or those who need a financial boon, that amount of money could help to stem the tide of financial despair. The hope is that Bill 206 proves successful across the state of California and permeates the entire country, enabling student athletes to compete in the sport they love, hopefully earn a college degree, and help themselves and their families maintain and even get ahead financially while they do it.



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