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Sports column: Paying players filled with unforeseen consequences

One of the biggest national sports stories this week centered on a new California law allowing college athletes to be paid for the use of their image and likeness. It’s the first of its kind in the country, and could be the first of many. Several other states are considering similar laws, and plenty of hand-wringing has ensued from both sides of a tedious, long-running debate.

For those against the idea of paying players, it marked the beginning of the end of college athletics as we know them. Athletes will only attend big-time programs where they can make plenty of money on side hustles. They’ll transfer to find the best deal and eschew academics and amateurism to turn pro the second they step on campus.

The folks who think college athletes should be paid feel it’s an idea whose time is overdue. Athletes who provide the on-field product that schools and the NCAA rake in millions of dollars on annually will get their piece of the pie. Poor student-athletes struggling to make ends meet can make money legally and without worrying about running afoul of the NCAA’s byzantine rulebook.

The reality, of course, will always wind up somewhere in the middle.

Most athletes will never see an extra dime. For every star quarterback who makes a few thousand dollars to appear in a local car dealership’s ad campaign, there is a third-string tight end who couldn’t pay a local clinic to put him on its ads warning of the horrors of venereal disease.

Big-time basketball recruits will do well. Five-star recruits will sign with Under Armour or Nike in high school and be steered toward top-tier colleges that those companies have contracts with. Your average high school player hustling just to latch on with a mid-major might do well to get a free pair of Skechers.

There will be new problems and unintended consequences that pop up if the California law is adopted nationwide.

What happens when a star player wants to transfer because a school’s boosters offer him more money? How will coaches, players and colleges handle it when they bench an underperforming player who has several large endorsement deals, and the shoe companies and sponsors threaten to pull advertising contracts because the decision hurts their brand and investment?

Maybe college athletes do deserve more than what they’re getting now. Perhaps the time has come for them to get a piece of the action. All parties involved, however, would be wise to think through the mechanisms and rules required to keep a complicated issue from devolving into chaos.

Ernest Bowker is the sports editor at The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached by email at ernest.bowker@vicksburgpost.com

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured sports reporters in the paper's 137-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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