California passed the Fair Pay to Play Act last month, allowing collegiate athletes to be paid based off their name and image. The law directly defies National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules.
The NCAA is the athletic overseer for 1,117 colleges across the country and more than 460,000 student-athletes nationwide. UMKC is a Division I athletics program under the NCAA, the highest tier within the association.
California Gov. Gavin Newsome signed the bill, which will go into effect in 2023. While that may seem far away, the NCAA is already fighting back, calling the law “unconstitutional.”
The law works by allowing student-athletes to hire agents and promote products and companies. This idea has gained momentum as the NCAA continues to bring in large sums of money each year, including nearly $14 billion in the 2018 calendar year. There is not a single athlete that saw a penny of that money.
“I am dedicating my life basically to a team and [the coaches] want me to be fully focused on that. Then, all my expenses should be paid,” track senior Tia Thompson said. “I have to work. I have to pay bills to feed myself. I’m not on a full-ride, so I also have to work to pay for school.”
Thompson has worked as a care facilitator at KidsTLC for four months. She works 40 hours a week, generally working eight-to-nine-hour shifts each time.
“I basically wake up at 7 a.m. and head to campus for class,” Thompson said. “Right after class, I go to practice, then to work. I usually practice alone because I have to be at work and my team doesn’t practice until 1 p.m. I lift on my own. So basically I do everything alone.”
Coming to UMKC as an out-of-state student left Thompson with only one option: find a place to live and find a way to pay for it.
“I am on my own; I come from a single-parent home with two other siblings,” Thompson said. “It was hard enough back then, but when I got to college in a city away from my mom, I didn’t have her house to stay in, and it cost more to live on campus than it does to stay off. I needed to be able to get around so I had to get a car, and all of that requires money that my mother doesn’t have. So I had to go get it myself.”
With this law, any school that plays under the NCAA in California could be deemed ineligible to compete in showcase events. This means that if a team makes the playoffs for its given sport, they would be unable to participate and have to forfeit the remainder of their season. However, the law also requires the NCAA to allow athletes to continue playing their sport if they have been given an endorsement.
“For me, a dream was to always make it to the NCAA tournament,” said UMKC senior volleyball player Mikala Wells. “So if I went to a school in California, I would be transferring.”
Wells has a job outside of school and sports, working three 12-hour shifts every six weeks at Children’s Mercy in the pediatric ICU.
“It is extremely stressful,” Wells said. “I feel like I am constantly sleep-deprived. I do not turn in as good of school work as I believe I can, but this is my life, and I knew what I was getting into when I got a job, decided to play volleyball, and be a nursing major.”
Both the basketball and volleyball programs at UMKC receive stipends, which are given to players for school and outside expenses.
“A stipend is a part of a full scholarship,” Wells said. “Not every student-athlete gets a stipend. Personally, my stipend goes straight towards my schooling. I do not see any of my scholarship for personal expenses.”
For those athletes who are not on a full scholarship, working may be their only option to help pay their rent, groceries or schooling. When not playing goalie for the women’s soccer team, senior Erin Roth works at Swinney Recreation Center to help pay for these expenses.
“I work to get money,” Roth said. “My parents don’t help me out with extra spending money or groceries or rent, so I must work to pay for that stuff.”
Working at Swinney has helped Roth get ahead on schoolwork while still finding a way to make money.
“During my freshman year, I was really struggling to work and go to practice and do class,” Roth said. “But then after a while, I figured it out. You just have to stay on top of things really well. When I started working at Swinney, it was nice because I was on campus, and a lot of times when working there I could also do homework while working.”
For all three of these student-athletes, working is a requirement to pay for bills and any other necessities they may need. With California paving the way, states across the nation may implement laws allowing student-athletes to be paid, lessening their workload and helping them be regular students.