California has been in the sports news of late due to SB-206, which is a bill that has passed the state’s senate that would allow student-athletes to be compensated for their name, image or likeness. It would therefore be illegal for an organization overseeing the athletes (e.g., the NCAA) to prevent them from playing based on being compensated for the above reasons. It would also prevent schools from canceling scholarships due to this compensation. In goes without saying that the NCAA isn’t happy about this bill and it has been reported that they have warned that California schools would be ineligible for championships if this bill were to pass. The provisions of the bill, if passed, would go into effect January 1, 2023.
Obviously this bill was designed with Division I in mind and specifically football and basketball. I did see one funny tweet on this that basically said that if California schools are banned from basketball championships then the NIT is going to be really hurt by this. (You see, it’s funny because the premise is that California schools don’t qualify for the NCAA Basketball Tournament and have to play in the NIT.) I actually read the bill, which I provided a link to above, and it doesn’t specifically narrow the scope down to a division or a sport. I started wondering what, if any, impacts this could have on DIII volleyball.
First off I’m not a big fan of black and white solutions to complex problems. We are living in an age now where compromise is a dirty word and any means is good that gets you to a single solution that is right for you. I find this quite sad but let’s face it the NCAA has operated like this for decades, right? I certainly understand the problems that open up when you pay players legally, but in my mind these are problems that need to be attacked and addressed as opposed to arbitrarily taking rights away from people (in this case the student-athletes). Back to DIII and what, if any, impact will this have specifically with volleyball? The easy answer is none, but you know my mind doesn’t work like that so let’s go down the rabbit hole.
One of the main arguments of paying players is that they are already paid through athletic scholarships and that should be enough. I don’t want to get into the fallacy of this but with DIII, that argument doesn’t exist. Our division doesn’t hand out athletic scholarships. A DIII argument might be that the NCAA doesn’t make enough money within DIII to pay for all of the sports so there really is no profit to be made. The focus of this bill, however, is on the student-athlete and whether they can be compensated for their name and image. Could a student-athlete in DIII volleyball gain a following in a local community that could then be leverage for compensation? I’m thinking it’s possible if not probable. Again, the ramifications of this really do ripple through the competitive balance of the sport and making things fair will require a lot of discussion and dare I say compromise.
I promised you a rabbit hole and here it is. I believe a lot of the best volleyball recruits focus on DI because there is a status associated with it. Now, I’m not taking about the best of the best that get full rides to Penn State or Stanford. I’m talking about the really good players that go to the second tier schools (for lack of a better phase). These players are good but they are not Olympics good or even good enough to play professionally outside of college. There were a couple of lower tier DI schools that were looking at my daughter out of high school and it was exciting until one day we just sat there and realized she had no interest in attending those schools. How many recruits end up going to schools they would never consider because they are getting some athletic money to attend? If I put the over/under at 50% then I’m taking the over. To me, DIII is this wonderful little huge community that has so many options with the one small little problem in that it can be expensive. What if, some of these better volleyball players realize that they can be compensated for their name and likeness at one of these smaller DIII schools to a point that the expense becomes manageable? Sure, this idea is kind of out there but everyone is focused on Division I when I think it could ripple to the other divisions, too.
One example I can think of is Michelle Lawrence. Michelle was a really good volleyball player that went to DI Colorado State University and excelled there her freshman year before deciding to transfer to Cal Lutheran for her final three years. She excelled there, too, and helped win a national championship for the Regals. Could a Michelle Lawrence make money from her name or likeness in a small community that would come out to watch a top talent dominate on the court? Would local businesses want to be associated with that type of person and player? If so, could this lead to an influx of DI caliber players deciding to play for DIII schools because they just love the school and now it becomes affordable?
I’m sure what I’ve written, if it comes to pass, is a little scary as it changes the landscape of collegiate sports across the nation. I am of the belief that smart men and women coming together could enact common sense rules to properly govern this change. I feel that letting young student-athletes choose where they want to go to school and play a game while also benefiting from their hard work are good things. The NCAA doesn’t share these feelings and their approach for decades is to deny simple basic rights to young people so they don’t have to figure out a fair way to handle these changes. Regardless of what California does and how other states respond, I have a feeling this will continue to be the NCAA’s approach.