Shutting Pandora's box: The future of amateurism and recruiting at ASU

The future of recruiting at the school rests in the balance of possible state laws and NCAA action

When California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed California Senate Bill 206, he had a vision.

Not only did Newsom want athletes in California to profit off their likeness, but he also aspired to begin the disarming of the NCAA's grip over players' abilities to use their image.

Nearly a month later, Newsom’s goal came to fruition as the NCAA Board of Governors voted unanimously to revise laws to allow students to start profiting off their name, image and likeness by no later than January 2021. 

ASU President Michael Crow supported the NCAA's action, saying in a statement that, “ASU will continue to participate in the discussion and process around the modernization of NCAA bylaws and policies.”

Despite doubts over its implementation, the NCAA's decision raises the possibility of legislation similar to SB 206 being passed in Arizona and may shift ASU's ability to recruit athletes from California.

What lies ahead

Newsom signed SB 206 on Sept. 30 allowing athletes to profit off their likeness while playing collegiate athletics. The bill is set to take effect on Jan. 1, 2023.

The bill was authored in part to make the NCAA act upon a changing philosophy over a student’s right to profit using their likeness, which is broadly defined as an athlete's name, image or presence.

“Signing SB 206 makes California the first state to restore to student-athletes a right everyone else has: The right to earn money from their name, image and likeness,” California Democratic Sen. Nancy Skinner said on an episode of UNINTERRUPTED’s "The Shop."

Arizona Democratic Rep. Reginald Bolding, who plans to introduce similar legislation in Arizona to help college athletes profit off their likeness, highlighted the issue of inequity, specifically with coaches making millions of dollars while students can't profit outside of their scholarships.

"I think that Arizona has the responsibility to look after its student-athletes," Bolding told The State Press. "For far too long, we've seen a system where, at a national level, quite frankly, really has not put students first."

A former track athlete at the University of Cincinnati, Bolding said the issue is not new and is now seeing change through, "Representatives, who are in an elected position, who have the courage to challenge the system."

At an appearance at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication on Sept. 16, ASU football head coach Herm Edwards stood against SB 206.

"It’ll give the California schools an advantage in recruiting," Edwards said. 

Despite multiple requests from The State Press, no other ASU football coaches, players or officials were willing to comment on the topic.

When the bill was first signed, ASU sports law professor Don Gibson thought it paved the way for the NCAA to act and change a controversial system, but he also raised his doubts as to how the association would implement the action. 

“They have indicated a sentiment, if you will, to move in that direction, but they will have to take some time to figure out how to do it,” Gibson said. 

This lack of specifics moving forward has led to speculation about what rules and regulations the association will implement — and not implement — as discussions concerning student-athletes profiting off their likeness continue.

Eddy Zubey, head football coach at Higley High School in Gilbert, Arizona, said he believes California schools will market themselves by promoting additional financial opportunities outside of playing the sport, similarly to how NBA teams do so.

"They'll be kind of showing (students), 'You are not just coming here to play for us,'" Zubey said. "I can see colleges using that to help entice kids, to recruit kids to come there, very much like professional sports."

Pandora’s box remains closed, for now

When ASU Vice President of Athletics Ray Anderson announced his search for a new coach, he specifically looked for someone who could, "effectively recruit in California."

Edwards and ASU recruiting coordinator Antonio Pierce did just that.

Together, the duo has recruited 35 of their 61 commits from California.

Pierce's presence in California has been strong since coming onto Edwards’s staff in 2018. His inaugural class included 13 California commits from a class that yielded 21 players, highlighted by sophomore linebacker Merlin Robertson.

His proceeding classes look very similar, from his 2019 class including 12 Californians from 24 total commits, including freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels. Their 2020 class includes nine Californians from 19 total commits.

ASU men's basketball also draws a significant portion of their talent from California, including junior guard Remy Martin and sophomore forward Taeshon Cherry.

If SB 206 remained the only legislation signed to address student-athletes' rights to profit off their likeness, California schools would theoretically draw more in-state and out-of-state recruits, being the only place where athletes could earn money and establish their brand. 

In turn, ASU’s recruiting — along with many other colleges' — would have theoretically suffered. 

Edwards referred to this advantage as opening, "Pandora's box," adding that, "if you decide to do that and you’re a student-athlete, you’re in California, one of those California schools, you’re going to have an advantage just promoting that because the scholarships are still about the same."

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey when speaking to Cronkite News also expressed concerns over how the California law will give schools in the state an advantage. He affirmed that state governments should aim to give, "proper care for these young people so that they can participate in the game that they love."

Zubey believes those ventures could give non-Californian athletes, "another mark in the, 'Why I should go to a California school' box," and keep more Californians in the state.

"If USC or UCLA becomes the USC or UCLA of old, then I don't see many kids leaving there with the opportunity to make money off their name as well," Zubey said.

But after the NCAA’s action, "Pandora’s box" may not be opened, as the action hypothetically takes away any need for state governments to act, assuming the association’s implementation of the action is recognized and enforced.

However, Bolding said he believes all states should pass legislation to support whatever the NCAA puts in place and thinks it won't create problems in the recruiting realm.

"Ideally, that would be the best-case scenario, that you have people create a level playing field across the country, where each state is able to adapt a similar protocol," Bolding said.

Even though the NCAA hasn’t created a clear path to legalizing student-athletes to use their name and likeness for monetary gain, Gibson says their, "willingness to explore the option, anyone who has an interest in this the opportunity, should view it as a positive."

For Kenneth Shropshire, CEO of Global Sport Institute at ASU and former NCAA consultant, the ability for student-athletes to earn off their likeness is, "certainly something that should be allowed."

"There's really no good reason not to allow someone to participate in the American dream and be profitable where you can be profitable," he said.

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