PULLMAN – Washington State and UCLA aren’t playing football for another six days, but Cougars coach Mike Leach already found a way to ruffle the feathers of Bruin fans and, on a larger scale, residents of the state of California with comments made during his weekly news conference Monday afternoon.
Leach was asked to share his thoughts on California’s Fair Pay for Play Act, a bill that’s become a hot-button topic in the college sports arena and recently passed unanimously through California’s state legislature, meaning a signature from Gov. Gavin Newsom is the only thing standing in the way of amateur athletes being able to profit from their name and likeness effective beginning in 2023.
The coach’s view on the bill itself was somewhat overshadowed by his broader comment about the state of California, which went viral on the internet well before Leach left the podium Monday afternoon in the field-level press conference room at Martin Stadium.
“The state of California has trouble keeping their streets clean right now, so my thought is that they probably ought to focus on that,” Leach said. “That’s just one guy’s opinion and I’m sure that I’m probably wrong, but at the rate California is handling their infrastructure and some of their other problems, you know, I think we’ll see how they do with that before I really think it would be that beneficial for the legislature of California to enter into college football.”
Leach added: “If you see benefits to them entering into college football I’d love to hear because they seem to be determined to do it.”
The coach did plunge into the issue of amateurism in college athletics, too, advising legislators to make sure the bill doesn’t lead to additional recruiting advantages.
“Well I think there’s a lot of stuff and I’ll let the lawyers kind of flesh that out, but I do think if everybody’s not – in other words, if you create a recruiting advantage beyond what already exists I think it’s going to be very difficult,” Leach said. “I think there will be a huge inbalance and you’ll destroy college football and I think you’ve got to be very careful of that.”
Last week, NCAA president Mark Emmert and 21 other members from the committee’s board of governors signed a letter that was sent to Newsom, urging the governor to veto the bill, claiming it to be unconstitutional and harmful.
“It would erase the critical distinction between college and professional athletics,” the letter read “and, because it gives those schools an unfair recruiting advantage, would result in them eventually being unable to compete in NCAA competitions.”
While student-athletes still won’t be compensated directly from their respective institutions, the bill would enable them to earn money from their name and likeness – i.e. autographs, promotions, jersey sales and other avenues.
If the bill passes, Leach believes the NCAA would have to allow programs other liberties they don’t have now, and it might raise other questions schools haven’t had to consider.
“The other thing, if you can do stuff like that, surely if you don’t like the way the guy’s portraying something, you should be able to cut him on the spot pretty much, I would think,” Leach said. “Then of course, are we going to have a draft, then are we going to have trading, then are we going to have free agency? I mean, how far does all this stuff go? So, I think we ought to be careful with that, or maybe we just ought to have minor league football and then those guys can do whatever they want.”
The bill will be passed or vetoed without Leach’s input, but the coach, if he accomplished nothing else in the weekly news conference, already managed to agitate a group of fans who’ll have another reason to root against him Saturday evening when the Cougars host the Bruins.