Pa. lawmakers working to mirror California law that allows college players to profit

(Wilkes-Barre) Times-Leader (TNS)
Dan Miller

What began in California has quickly spread to Pennsylvania.

A day after California signed its "Fair Pay to Play Act" that will eventually allow college athletes to make money off of their name, image and likeness, two lawmakers are looking to bring the same legislation to the Keystone State under the same title.

State Reps. Dan Miller and Ed Gainey, both Democrats from Allegheny County, announced their intentions Tuesday to create a bill that would "largely mirror" California's, which is projected to take effect Jan. 1, 2023, against heavy opposition from the NCAA, which wants to keep its current model intact.

Except in rare corner cases, college athletes are not allowed to make money from endorsements and remain eligible to play in NCAA competition.

"Athletes are forced to give up their rights and economic freedom while the colleges make hundreds of millions of dollars off of their talent and likeness," Miller said in a release. "This bill would help to balance the scales by allowing them to sign endorsements, earn compensation, and hire agents to represent their interests in exchange for the work they do, and the benefit provided to the college."

Ed Gainey

"Our student-athletes give their blood, sweat and tears to a sport they love, while colleges, universities and corporations reap the financial benefits of their work," Gainey said in a release. "If a college football head coach can earn $4.8 million for coaching 'amateur student-athletes,' and if corporations can earn billions of dollars using the players' names and faces, then how is it not fair for them to earn some sort of financial compensation?

"The chances of a professional contract and thus a payout for all of their hard work and pain are tiny, and we owe it to them to level the playing field."

Penn State impact: That $4.8 million figure is roughly what Penn State coach James Franklin -- Pennsylvania's highest-paid state employee -- made for the 2018 season, according to his contract. And Franklin's Nittany Lions program would be the most heavily affected by such a bill, which promises to revolutionize college sports, particularly major college football and basketball.

Giving his weekly press conference just as the proposed bill was being announced, Franklin didn't offer any strong opinions one way or the other.

James Franklin

"Yeah, obviously there's a lot going on about this right now, and obviously our administration here at Penn State, as well as the Big Ten Conference, is all following this closely," Franklin said. "And we're going to have to continue to follow it closely, and we're going to have to learn and we're going to have to evolve.

"So I think everybody is very aware of it, and we'll continue to track and obviously come up with some plans that are specific to Penn State, as well as plans for the Big Ten Conference. There's a window of time we've got to get it done in, but there's no doubt that's a lot of people working on it right now."

Big Ten opposition: It is notable, however, that he didn't come out in opposition to the idea, as others in the Big Ten have. One of the bill's staunchest opponents has been Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, who last month threatened that the Buckeyes would no longer schedule schools from California in any sports.

"What we can't have is situations where we have schools and/or states with different rules for an organization that's going to compete together," Smith told ESPN Tuesday. "It can't happen; it's not reality. And if that happens, what we need is federal help to try to make sure we create rules and regulations for all of our memberships that are consistent. And if that doesn't happen, then we're looking at a whole new model."

Smith is helping lead an NCAA group examining the issue and will be presenting options in a report later this month.

"I'm very much aligned with Gene on this issue," Buckeyes football coach Ryan Day said Tuesday. "And I understand that it's very complex, and I think it's an exciting issue for student-athletes. But I'm interested to see kind of where it goes and the talks that happen.

"I do definitely think that there's opportunity out there for these guys, but at the same time, it's not that easy. 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."