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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Local colleges react to NCAA vote permitting student-athletes to earn money for name, likeness, image

PULLMAN – Before long, college athletes will be able to profit from their name, image and likeness.

Washington State men’s basketball coach Kyle Smith said it’s a long time coming.

“I’m a free-market capitalist, man,” Smith, the Cougars’ first-year coach, said recently. “I think if you can earn that, if someone else wants to pay you to represent their thing or their image, then it’s your image and I think you should be able to get paid for that.”

Amateurism in college athletics has been a hot-button issue for years, dividing coaches, administrators and fans into two subsections. One of those groups finally got its way Tuesday. The other will have to adapt to a new way of thinking, or find a new way to fill its time when the College Football Playoff or NCAA Tournament comes onto its television set.

NCAA leaders made a landmark decision Tuesday morning, unanimously voting on legislation that will permit collegiate athletes to be compensated for the use of their name, image and likeness, as long as it happens “in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.”

The ruling opens the door for college athletes – especially the more prominent ones – to cash in on appearances, autographs, video-game cameos, advertisements and more.

The language used by the NCAA in a news release Tuesday was mostly vague, which leaves more than a few pressing questions: What will this look like? Who will it actually impact, and to what level? How will it be policed?

“How I read the release is that, it’s an acknowledgment that something has to change, but yet there’s not a plan on how we’re changing it,” Gonzaga Athletic Director Mike Roth said. “And I think the biggest concern all of us have had within the NCAA is how do we do this so it just doesn’t become the Wild Wild West in we’re not professionalizing college athletics, which is a big fear some of us have, and we’re not just opening the door to unregulated, uncontrollable things in regards to recruiting and student-athletes.”

Washington State’s Mike Leach fears the ruling will alter recruiting and allow teams with more financial power to gain an advantage.

“It sounds like it could open the door for teams to buy players,” Leach said via text message. “If it does, that will destroy college football as we know it.”

The organization’s Board of Governors is immediately directing each of the three NCAA divisions to “consider updates to relevant bylaws and policies for the 21st century,” and requests that leaders of the divisions move to “create new rules beginning immediately,” but no later than January 2021, which gives them approximately 14 months to consider modifications.

The NCAA has always vowed to protect the amateurism of student-athletes. Until now, its top-level leaders have been vocal opponents of various measures that would allow athletes to earn additional income.

But less than a month ago, California Governor Gavin Newsom took a proactive step toward that, signing California’s Fair Pay to Play Act, or SB 206. Effective in 2023, the law makes it illegal for the NCAA to prevent student-athletes in the state of California from being able to earn compensation for their name, image and likeness.

The NCAA has deemed the California law “unconstitutional” and some “NIL” (name, image, likeness) opponents say student-athlete compensation contradicts the spirit and the mission of college athletics.

Roth doesn’t fall into that group, but he said it’s important to use boundaries or “guard rails” to protect from “potential wrongdoings” and block “unsavory groups or individuals” from getting involved.

He believes Gonzaga’s men’s basketball players, playing for a program that’s made five straight Sweet 16 appearances, will have more than a few opportunities to capitalize, but suggests because of that head coach Mark Few and the Bulldogs have to take a few more precautions than some of their peers.

“We’ll be dealing with the same issues that the Dukes and the North Carolinas and the Kansases and Kentuckys do from that standpoint,” Roth said, “and we’ll have some really high-profile student-athletes and we plan on continuing to have high-profile student-athletes, and within the boundaries of how this will be set up, we’ll make sure they’re able to take advantage of those things and we’ll be able to embrace that.”

Few was unavailable for comment.

WSU Athletic Director Pat Chun was out of the office, but the school issued a statement in support of the NCAA’s ruling.

“Washington State University supports today’s vote by the NCAA Board of Governors to permit student-athletes the opportunity to benefit from the use of their name, image and likeness,” the statement read. “While this is a necessary first step, we look forward to future discussions on how to best implement these changes that will lead to an enhanced collegiate experience for our student-athletes.”

Smith believes his program won’t be impacted as much as others and will maintain the same core values on the recruiting trail.

“I think it’s definitely going to send some ripples and impact things,” he said, speaking specifically about the California law. “I think we’ll still be the gritty (program). We’re selling an opportunity to play at the highest level. That’s the platform we have.”

Nearly a month before the NCAA vote, Smith was already contemplating ways to put cash in his players’ pockets.

“I guess I’ve got to have a meeting with Jess Ford, talk to him about how they’re going to use some of our guys,” he joked, referencing a popular auto dealership in Pullman. “Their likenesses.

“Like I said, if Jess Ford comes through. Jess Ford. No, I’m kidding. I don’t know if Jess Ford will look for us, but maybe Jess Ford will.”