Rider student-athletes react to Fair Pay to Play law

By Dylan Manfre

Following legislation in California that will allow college athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness, a number of former and current Rider student-athletes expressed various views on the issue.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law, also known as the Fair Pay to Play Act, on Sept. 30 which will allow student-athletes to be compensated as of Jan. 1, 2023.

At the signing of the California bill was current Los Angeles Lakers forward, and vocal advocate for college athletes being compensated, LeBron James.

The NCAA publicly expressed its discontent with California’s bill, in addition to the proposed bills of New York and Florida, all of which go against the organization’s fundamental principle of maintaining a strict line between professionalism and amateurism in collegiate athletics.

On Sept. 11, the NCAA Board of Governors sent a letter to Newsom saying it would “erase the critical distinction between professional athletics and, because it gives those schools an unfair recruiting advantage, would result in them eventually being unable to compete in NCAA competitions.”

The California bill is the first of its kind. In the midst of the California legislation, a number of other states proposed similar measures.

New York State Senator Kevin Parker proposed a bill which would allow athletes to receive 15% of the revenue generated by their school’s athletic departments, according to the proposal.

“It begs a lot of questions,” Rider Athletic Director Don Harnum said. “Most Division I schools do not ticket for their events. We do not ticket for soccer, field hockey, tennis, baseball. Is it 15% of ticket sales for just the ticketed athletes? I don’t have that answer. What if ticket sales don’t cover your expenses? They’re getting 15% of a revenue that really does not exist.”

Different from New York’s proposal, California’s legislation does not involve students being compensated by the NCAA or their school. Athletes would only be able to profit off endorsement deals and not from revenue sharing.

Florida’s plan would see athletes being compensated as of July 1, 2020.

Harnum believes the legislation will “change the game as we know it.”

“I think more states are going to enact it,” Harnum said. “I think it’s going to continue to put pressure on the NCAA to change and lessen some of their rules, but then you get into whether this is professional sports or amateur sports,”

He mentioned “there are only 30 [athletic programs] that are making money. Everyone makes a revenue, but are revenues greater than expenses at most Division I schools? No.”

Harnum does not believe schools are taking advantage of its student-athletes.

“You’re still playing a game for the love of the game and in a lot of time you are getting compensated in the form of a scholarship,” said Harnum.

Former men’s soccer forward Jose Aguinaga, ‘17, said that his opinion on the issue has never changed.

“I was amazed,” Aguinaga said in a phone interview. “When you realize, football players that play for big schools, the school is making a lot of money with [the players’] name and [the athletes] are not allowed to get paid or benefit is pretty unfair. I don’t think there is anything wrong with the fact that [a player is a part of] Rider men’s soccer and [holds] a camp. We know not everyone gets a full scholarship and school is expensive.”

Men’s basketball redshirt junior forward Frederick Scott viewed the college game as an internship where athletes strive to get a “superior job.”

Scott added that if players were to be compensated that it would affect, for better or worse, the chemistry of the team.

“If they’re starting to pay players, it causes conflict within the team,” Scott said. “If that happens, it would take away the concept of team. I feel like when people go to college you’re putting yourself on a stage to represent something. Now [if players get paid,] it changes the mind of everyone who steps on the court, because they’re like ‘I’m doing it just for myself.’”

There are ways for student-athletes to make money on campus. According to Harnum, the pay structure is no different than any other Rider student. The debate is whether they are making money via their name, image or likeness.

Harnum said the belief that student-athletes can’t make money is false.

“Athletes can work,” Harnum said. “Athletes can work off campus, in the summer. We hire a lot of our own athletes. They are the Zoo Crew chasing the balls. We have to keep paperwork.”

Former track and field athlete Sara Gardner spent her time as a runway and editorial model outside of Rider. She modeled for Boss Models Inc. New York and then transferred to Red Model Management.

“[Earning money as a model is] totally unrelated to her making money as a track athlete. She was allowed to make money as a runway model because she wasn’t making money because she is a Rider track athlete.”

Harnum said. “And that was completely legal in the eyes of the NCAA because she was not monetizing the ‘Rider track athlete Sara Gardner.’”

While modeling was a passion of hers, she did not realize that profiting off her image would be a violation of her National Letter of Intent, which she signed when she transferred to Rider.

“The biggest thing that Harnum, [Head Coach Bob] Hamer, [Associate Head Coach Brett] Harvey, was making sure the jobs I did, did not conflict with the NCAA,” said Garnder, who started modeling at age 14. “Most jobs had nothing to do with running. I couldn’t model for Nike or Adidas. I had to make sure the modeling life did not mix in with my track career.”

She mentioned that sports companies such as Nike, Adidas and Under Armour offered Gardner to do a photoshoot but she had to turn them down.

“Those companies did call and ask, at some points in my college career to model for them to be in certain running ads,” Gardner said. “I wasn’t able to do so because that would be a violation of my contract.”

Gardner said that from an athlete’s perspective, she viewed her scholarship as a “form of payment.”

“Looking at it as a broad Division I view, you’re getting a scholarship,” Gardner said. “[The school] is paying you to be the best you can be. They provide for you. Rider did everything to make sure I was getting the most out of my experience. I was getting paid in a way.”

On campus, Gardner was a BroncVision employee, a graduate assistant in the Academic Success Center and a tutor.

One thing Harnum wanted to make note of was that the language the NCAA used changed after the California bill was passed.

The NCAA related a statement on Sept. 30, “As a membership organization, the NCAA agrees changes are needed to continue to support student-athletes, but improvement needs to happen on a national level through the NCAA’s rules-making process.”

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