SB-206 and (Ir)Responsible Recruiting Standards

Today, I’m going to do two things I really don’t want to do.

First of all, I’m going to go out of order. I wanted to start off this series with the NCAA’s commitment to value-based legislation. We’re going to be talking about its commitment to responsible recruiting standards instead. It’s a short commitment, so I’ll include the full text:

“Recruiting bylaws shall be designed to promote informed decisions and balance the interests of prospective student-athletes, their educational institutions, the Association’s member institutions and intercollegiate athletics as a whole. This commitment includes minimizing the role of external influences on prospective student-athletes and their families and preventing excessive contact or pressure in the recruitment process.”

Recruiting is a dirty game for a lot of reasons, but I’ll talk about that in another post. For now, let’s move onto the second thing I really don’t want to do, because you’re going to want to stick around for this one. Today, I have to admit that Mark Emmert is right about something. That’s painful for me to write but I have to give him credit. It’s only responsible.

Last week, the NCAA released a statement in response to the Fair Pay to Play Act passing the California assembly. It only has one more hurdle until it becomes law and has until July 11th to do so. Emmert is lobbying to prevent that from happening. And his justification actually makes sense. Here’s an excerpt of the letter he wrote to the final committee that explains why:

“When contrasted with current NCAA rules… as drafted the bill threatens to alter materially the principles of intercollegiate athletics and create local differences that would make it impossible to host fair national championships.”

He’s right. I hate to say it, but Mark Emmert is right. Which links back to responsible recruiting standards and excessive pressure, and externa influences mentioned in the Division 1Manual. Any reform to amateurism needs to be comprehensive. South Carolina representative Mark Walker knows this, which is why he’s working to pass a similar law through congress. I like his approach a lot better than California’s. Here’s why:

If only California athletes are allowed to accept payment, that creates an egregious unfair competitive imbalance to California universities. Coaches will be able to leverage that when they recruit high school athletes and the Pac-12 will have national championship teams until other member states hop on board, which could take a while. That’s not fair.

I’ll give you a scenario to illustrate my point: University of Southern California head coach, Clay Helton and defending national champion coach, Dabo Swinney both go to recruit an athlete. Swinney has prestige on his side and USC hasn’t won a national championship since 2004. But, should SB-206 finally pass, Helton now has money on his team, or at least the potential for his athletes to earn it.

Helton can offer recruits the opportunity to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars while they play at USC. Swinney can’t do that unless he wants to do it illegally. He won’t. Swinney doesn’t think athletes should be paid in the first place. Who do you think is going to win that recruit over? Especially if he comes from poverty, which, contrary to popular belief, most full-ride athletes do.

I’ve said before that I’m all for fair compensation. It’s not the NCAA’s right to give or take away in the first place. But amateurism reform needs to be comprehensive. That’s why I’m a fan of Mark Walker’s bill and critical of SB-206. Widespread bylaws are the only way the NCAA can maintain its commitment to responsible recruiting standards. Mark Emmert is right. And I hate to admit that. But it’s only responsible.   

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