Gene Smith is concerned about the effect of a law passed in California last week that would allow college athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness.
The Ohio State director of athletics pre-empted football coach Ryan Day’s usual Tuesday press conference to share some of his views on the hot-button issue as well as take questions from the local media.
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“My concern about the California bill is it moves slightly to pay to play,” said Smith, who played football at Notre Dame in the 1970s. “How do you regulate that?”
Stressing “fair play” is a major issue, he explained the issue is complex and California’s approach could be too broad, particularly with evolving technologies making new ways to profit possible beyond advertisements on television, radio or in print or online.
Smith is a member of a working group created by the NCAA in May to study the issue of athletics profiting off their name, image and likeness, something Olympic athletes are allowed to do while maintaining “amateur” status.
That group’s report is due later this month, but Smith said he was unable to comment on its work so far.
“I believe there are things that can be done in this space, that can be regulated, but I can’t obviously share with you what those things are,” Smith said. “So we’ll continue to work hard, have a report in October and then the membership will have an opportunity to develop whatever model exists.”
Ohio State University President Dr. Michael V. Drake is part of the NCAA Board of Governors, which sent a letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom expressing concern over the effects of the bill.
The letter reportedly questioned the legality of the legislation and “would eventually result in (California colleges) being unable to compete in NCAA competition,” according to USA Today.
Smith confirmed he would not schedule nonconference games against schools from California once the bill goes into effect in 2023, though NCAA rules could be changed before that time arrives.
“I would stay with schools that are in states that are like we are in the NCAA so I wouldn’t,” he said. “What’s great about California, and I have to applaud them, is they delayed it to ’23 out of respect for the working group and that we hopefully can modify that bill to accommodate whatever the working group comes up with.”
Fairness was a theme Smith returned to multiple times during his surprise press conference. That included acknowledging Ohio State would actually benefit from a law allowing athletes in Ohio to be compensated for their name, image and likeness because of the immense resources, massive alumni base and proximity to major companies in a large metropolitan area like Columbus.
“Your richer (schools) would be different,” he said when asked if there is already a disparity between schools across the country. “Some schools would have the capacity to do more in name, image and likeness than other schools who do well. I can’t give you examples because that would be disparaging of those institutions and that’s not right for me to do, but if you just think about it from a business point of view, imagine you’re the athletic director at Ohio State with this massive alumni association and these massive resources and you just create a list of your next 60 schools and then you try and figure out from a business point of view where do you want to be because at that point of time it’s pure business.”
When Day took the mic, he said he is “very much aligned with Gene on this issue” but acknowledged it could be an “exciting issue for student-athletes.”
For now, the coach wants to see how things play out.
“I do definitely think that there’s opportunity out there for these guys, but at the same time, it’s not that easy,” Day said. “There’s a history of college football that has been around for a long time, and I know everybody is sensitive to not turn that off into a bad road, but again, my focus right now is really just on the season, so it’s hard to get too much down that road.”
During his time in front of the room, Smith acknowledged the process of opening up more opportunities for athletes to be compensated beyond free tuition and room and board has been slow but added, “There’s no better time to be a student-athlete than today.”
He cited the value of a scholarship as well as the additional stipend athletes receive to cover “cost of attendance” shortfalls in the scholarship and pointed out some players receive federal financial aid via Pell grants.
“Do the math on a monthly basis what you’re netting,” Smith said. “I had $10 of laundry money, so at the end of the day this is the best time to be a student-athlete even though there are different things we could do moving forward.”
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