Pa. college athletes could earn financial compensation under proposed bill
The paid college athlete is an idea whose time has come, say two Allegheny County lawmakers.
State Reps. Dan Miller, D-Mt. Lebanon, and Ed Gainey, D-Pittsburgh, say they plan to introduce a bill that would allow college athletes to sign endorsements, earn compensation and hire agents just like the pros.
The “Fair Pay to Play Act” would mirror the California law signed Monday by Gov. Gavin Newsom. That law, if it survives challenges and takes effect in 2023, could upend the whole American system of college athletics as an amateur enterprise.
“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. “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?”
Miller said the bill will be introduced in the full House soon and would apply to all state schools that offer four-year degrees.
“This, in my opinion, will become law,” he said. “Whether or not Pennsylvania joins California to be one of the first states in the nation … it’s just reality. It’s going to happen. The paradigm needs to shift — I just wish Pennsylvania would lead the way.”
Miller said there is an “economic freedom” argument to be made in favor of legalizing compensation for college athletes.
“In my mind, the time is due to open up those doors of opportunity and to recognize that the billions of dollars made (by NCAA schools) are raised on the hard work of college athletes,” he said. “To me, it’s about worker economic freedom.”
Longtime Pittsburgh sports agent and lawyer Ralph Cindrich said he has “mixed emotions” now that the idea of the paid college athlete is gaining traction.
“I guess I feel the NCAA rules were put in there for an obvious purpose when the organization started. Once it became a money machine, it became piggish like other organizations,” he said.
Cindrich, onetime agent to Brian Griese, Eric Green and Will Wolford, said he values the principle of amateurism but realizes times have changed.
“I think the athletes that want it and need to benefit from it should,” he said. “I think there’s something very good to be said about that.”
College conference officials were guarded in their reaction.
“This is a complicated issue that needs to be addressed holistically, and not state by state. Several recent changes approved by schools and conferences have led to additional benefits, which is necessary as we continue to be progressive in modernizing and enhancing the benefits provided to every student-athlete, while staying within the principles of amateurism,” said ACC Commissioner John Swofford. “Our country is unique in annually providing hundreds of thousands of students the opportunity to combine higher education with athletics. We will continue to have discussions about this issue and the impact it will have on our membership.”
Area Division 1 coaches likewise chose their words carefully when asked about the California law Tuesday.
Penn State football coach James Franklin said the school is following the issue closely.
“We’re going to have to learn, and we’re going to have to evolve. I think everybody is very aware of it and will continue to track it and, obviously, come up with some plans that are specific to Penn State as well as plans for the Big Ten Conference,” Franklin said.
West Virginia University football coach Neal Brown took a wait-and-see approach.
“I just want to know the rules. Someone tell me the rules and we’ll abide by them. I’m not into making legislation. That’s boring,” he said.
University of Pittsburgh cornerback Dane Jackson said he’s been following the issue mostly on social media.
“I think college athletes — they can benefit off those things and set things up for their future,” Jackson said.
Two Westmoreland County legislators raised the example of Terrelle Pryor, the Jeannette native who left Ohio State in 2011 after allegations of selling memorabilia. The Pryor scandal also led to the resignation of OSU coach Jim Tressel.
“When I see what happened to Terrelle and how they almost ruined his life, I think there might be some leeway for these young folks,” said state Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield. “As long as their grades are up.”
State Rep. Eric Nelson, R-Hempfield, who also mentioned Pryor, said he would need to see the bill’s language.
“It’s an interesting concept, and we’d want a better understanding of what all the consequences are,” he said.
Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, [email protected] or via Twitter .