TCU athletic director ‘really nervous’ about California’s new Fair Pay to Play Act

TCU athletic director Jeremiah Donati didn’t sugarcoat his concern level over California’s ‘Fair Pay to Play Act’ that was unanimously passed by California’s legislature on Sept. 11.

The bill would allow student athletes to accept compensation for use of their names, likenesses and images. It’s now on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk and he has 30 days from when it was passed to either sign it into law or veto it. The law wouldn’t go into effect until January 2023.

“It worries me a lot,” Donati told the Star-Telegram last week.

Donati painted a scenario where student athletes are getting paid endorsement deals by various bars and restaurants in college towns. The money won’t come from athletic apparel giants such as Nike, adidas or Reebok, as every school usually has exclusive rights with an apparel company.

“It’s not going to be a situation where adidas tries to sign any of our players,” said Donati, referencing TCU’s long-standing relationship with Nike. “It’s going to be social media. What I mean by that is these guys are social media rock stars.

“The local businesses will say, ‘Hey, Player X, let us host your birthday party at Bar Y. We’ll promote it and it’ll be Desmond Bane’s 21st birthday.’ And they’ll pay him money to do this.”

That sounds all well and good in concept until boosters get involved in promoting such events. That’s where the underlying and inevitable problem lies with “paying athletes,” Donati said.

“Some big pocket donors can say, ‘We’re going to pay our players $100,000 to promote Joe’s Taco Shack,’” Donati said. “Then we’re back in the funny business again. I’m really nervous about this. I don’t know how you regulate this.

“This could potentially destroy everything we know and love about college sports. I am absolutely a huge opponent of it.”

If this becomes the new world of college athletics, schools could be asking boosters to host parties for their athletes instead of buying suites at stadiums.

To Donati, that’s “unconscionable.”

“I understand the free market concept and I understand the country we live in is exceptionally prideful and that’s part of our freedom,” Donati said. “But I also think there’s a tremendous amount of monetary value in place on these kid’s educations. That’s a tremendous investment we’re making investing into this amateur model.

“I just think it’d be a shame to throw it away so haphazardly from what I’ve heard. It has potential to be a wild, wild west situation, which is scary as an athletic director.

“I know a few high-profile coaches have been on the record saying this would destroy college athletics. I don’t know if that’s too far, but I don’t think it helps it.”

When asked about this subject last week, TCU football coach Gary Patterson refused to become another high-profile voice on it.

“I haven’t paid any attention,” Patterson said. “I’m glad I’m 59, not 39.”

TCU men’s basketball coach Jamie Dixon agrees with the law “in principle.”

“I understand it and agree with it in principle,” Dixon said. “But there’s a lot of details that have to be figured out.”

Dixon chuckled at the notion this law could possibly be an incentive for basketball players to stay in school longer rather than bolt for the NBA.

“I don’t think it keeps them in,” Dixon said. “Every kid that can go to the NBA and get paid is going to go to the NBA. And I don’t blame them one bit.”

Still, TCU makes a substantial investment in every student athlete that comes through its respective programs.

Donati estimated that TCU spends approximately $100,000 on each student athlete every year, factoring in everything from tuition to room and board to medical expenses.

Of the approximately 525 student athletes on campus, Donati said, you could count on one hand the number that actually exceed the $100,000 from a media value perspective.

“So we’re going to change all the rules for 525 other kids because of three? I think that’s crazy,” Donati said. “Ultimately what’s going to happen is if you have to provide more resources for this, it’ll absolutely crush your Olympic sports. I hope that’s an Armageddon situation, but every year we inch closer to that.

“I’m not crazy at all about the law.”

The NCAA has drawn a hard line for now that California universities wouldn’t be able to participate in postseason events because student athletes accepting money in this fashion would violate its bylaws.

Or the California-based schools could only accept student athletes who are willing to forfeit their right to make endorsement money in this capacity.

But, if enough states adopt this law, the NCAA and the college sports world may have to change or find a middle ground. That’s the new reality on the horizon, it seems.

“It’s a real interesting time,” Donati said.

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