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Ohio State, Gene Smith, paying players, college

Ohio State Buckeyes AD Gene Smith appears to have made up his mind about playing players

California Governor Gavin Newsom isn’t relenting even after the NCAA wrote a “Dear Mr. Governor” open-letter to him. SB 206, legislature that would allow student-athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness, is all but set to be enacted in a few years.

The governing body of college sports was hoping, through some public discourse, it could sway Newsom into vetoing the bill. While there’s still time, it hasn’t happened yet.

The response from the college sports community has been hyperbolic on both fronts. Those within the NCAA bubble believe this is an unfair, unconstitutional attack on their idealism and business model of amateurism. Those who advocate for student-athlete rights, however, are operating under the assumption that this is a key turning point, allowing for the entire model to be massively overhauled.

For the NCAA, currently battling enemies on multiple fronts, including a new bill proposed from a senator in Brooklyn, it’s still defiant when discussing any form of evolution to its model.

When asked if the NCAA would “walk away” from California universities if SB 206 made it all the way to 2023 without a veto come from the state’s governor, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith took a long walk to not only say he would with his vote, but admitted there’s a level of concern to be had if other states were to pass similar legislature.

“I’m a single vote in that,” Gene Smith said, via USA Today. “My guess is our membership would say yes because one of our principles is fair play, and even in the working group that I’m on, we’re focused on trying to make sure we deal with this in a fair-play way – as best as we can have a level playing field. We know it’s unlevel in a lot of ways, but this could make it unbelievably unlevel.

“So, my position would be, yes, and actually I would really be interested in how the Pac-12 (Conference) will handle those schools who are not in California that are members of the Pac-12. And how those schools will compete against those schools in California who have an unfair advantage because they’ll be able to offer student-athletes benefits that the other schools will not be able to offer. So, yeah, my position would be we walk.

“What’s fortunate is we have till 2023, and I’m hopeful that once our working group completes its work and the association goes through next year, we can get to a point where we mitigate this. But if it stands as it is, and other states create similar legislation, then we’ve got a big issue. We really do.”

We’ve previously covered the idea of college sports championing the mythology of fair and balance fields before. The gap between power programs and smaller universities happen to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, sometimes even stretching into the billions. Smith, to his credit, did at least acknowledge there’s already an unfair balance to the NCAA’s model.

Smith would also go on to express how he believes the California schools would be treated by the NCAA in 2023 if the entity and the state weren’t on the same page.

“If the California law goes into effect in ’23,” Gene Smith said Tuesday, “and let’s say the NCAA legislation, how ever it emerges, doesn’t quite meet what California wants it to be and they continue to hold that law, who’s going to play (California schools)? We’re certainly not. They won’t be members of the NCAA. I think that’s going to be the problem.”

California is the most populous state in the country. Maybe Smith sincerely believes the NCAA would abandon it; though that would be ignoring the state’s enormous market and general optics. Pushing aside the loss of revenue if the umbrella organization was to do away with the state, its ability to market any event as a national championship would be hurt, even if only perceptively.

On Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom, who still has time to veto the bill, went on The Daily Show With Trevor Noah to explain why this bill is important.

“Coaches make millions and millions of dollars,” Newsom began. “Advertisers make millions and millions of dollars on the likeness of these athletes that give up, in some cases, their bodies and their health for their sports. I guess that’s one version of a romanticized system. That’s the current system.

“And, you know, in one respect there’s a racial component. Close to 90% of these coaches are white and the majority of Division I basketball players are black. The plurality of Division I football players are black.

“And with all due respect, this notion of student-athlete – give me a break. These guys are full time, expected full-time to sacrifice themselves for athletics.

“But when they’re done, the next crew comes in and it’s just this cycle – and, at the end of the day, it perpetuates a cycle of inequality and a lack of equity. And I think as it relates to the issues of sports, it’s time to rebalance things.

“So, I’m taking a good look at this legislation. I have the next few days to make a decision. But I recognize the consequence of this decision because we could substantially change the NCAA as we know it. But I think this question needs to be called.”

The NCAA’s working group, of which Gene Smith is a member, is scheduled to make a final report to the NCAA Board of Governors at meetings Oct. 27 and 28 in Atlanta. If the NCAA decides to drag its feet, relying on a verbal inference of amateurism apocalypse instead, it’ll be an interesting next few years.

However, as Smith acknowledged, they are hoping to offset some of SB 206’s potential power in dynamically shifting the NCAA’s operation. Assuming Newsom doesn’t veto the bill, the only way for the governing body to achieve such a thing is to write its own allowance of name, image and likeness for college athletes into its bylaws.

Editor’s note: This column originally appeared on Forbes. It’s republished under terms of the publisher-author agreement under the author’s name.

Joseph Nardone has been covering college basketball for nearly a decade for various outlets in a variety of ways. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephNardone.

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