After years of debate on whether college athletes should be paid, the North Carolina legislature has agreed to create a commission to study the fair treatment of those students.
The legislative commission would examine the needs and concerns of college athletes, including “profit-sharing for student athletes,” and propose legislation on their behalf. Its findings could have statewide implications across all sports, within both public and private universities.
“Any athlete in the state of North Carolina could be impacted,” said Sen. Jeff Tarte, a Mecklenburg County Republican and one of the bill’s primary sponsors.
Tarte said thoroughness and rigor are important in the process as the outcome could set a national precedent.
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North Carolina has a substantial influence on collegiate athletics. In 2018 six of the 68 teams competing in the NCAA basketball tournament came from North Carolina. UNC won the national championship in 2017, two years after Duke won it.
The ACC distributed $25.4 million to Duke, $26.5 million to N.C. State and $27 million to North Carolina in the 2017 fiscal year, according to the conference.
As of last year, Duke’s affiliation with Nike was valued at $4.25 million a year, UNC’s deal with Nike at $3.55 million a year, and N.C. State’s deal with adidas at $6.45 million a year.
College athletes are not allowed to profit from their name, image or likeness.
The NCAA defends that arrangement, saying college sports rely on a foundation of amateurism which they consider crucial for an academic environment.
The proposed commission is part of a larger bill that passed the legislature this week and now goes to Gov. Roy Cooper.
Tarte said the bill is intentionally broad in scope because of the number of varying opinions on the subject.
“The Commission shall study issues related to the provision of health insurance, sports injuries and non-sports injuries, and profit-sharing for student athletes,” the bill, Senate Bill 335, says.
Those issues could include whether athletes should be paid and whether institutions should be able to profit on the image of a student athlete without sharing those profits with them.
Luke Maye shouldn’t expect any checks in the mail from the ACC anytime soon. Tarte estimated that the earliest North Carolina would start seeing effects of the legislation would be 2020.
Other issues include assisting students with affording transportation to see their parents. Tarte said the commission would also address whether it is appropriate for athletes to miss classes because of sports.
Among other things, the bill calls for “consideration of remuneration or profit-sharing for student athletes for the use by institutional or commercial entities of the students' image, or other identifiable source, such as television rights or collegiate apparel that produce commercial profit for the institutions, membership associations, or commercial entities.”
Tarte pointed out differences among the sports. Baseball players are allowed to enter the MLB after high school and basketball players to enter the NBA after one year of college, while football players cannot enter the NFL until the equivalent of their junior year in college is complete.
“There are some weird inconsistencies in the field,” Tarte said.
Robert Orr, a former N.C. Supreme Court justice, represented two UNC-Chapel Hill athletes in a lawsuit against the university and the NCAA in 2015, claiming that neither institution was ensuring a quality education for its athletes.
“There’s a whole bunch of issues and problems that have been identified with the college athletics model and the impact that the system has on these young men and women that participate in athletics,” Orr said.
Orr supports North Carolina forming a commission on behalf of student athletes.
“I think the commission is an excellent proposal and an important first step for the leaders in our state to examine those problems in the context of the consolidated university systems,” Orr said.