Gene Smith: Federal help needed to maintain level playing field in college athletics

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COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Ohio State University Athletic Director Gene Smith says federal help is needed in order to maintain a level playing field after Califorinia passed a law that will allow college athletes to hire agents and make money from endorsement deals.

Smith, who serves as co-chair of an NCAA committee that is examining the use of name image and likeness of student athletes, addressed reporters Tuesday morning.

Due to his position on the committee, Smith was reluctant to discuss any specific proposals, but he expressed concern about all NCAA schools operating under the same set of rules.

“We can’t have a situation where we have schools and or states with different rules for an organization that’s going to compete together. It can’t happen. It’s not reality. So, if that happens, what we need is federal help, to try and make sure that we create rules and regulations for all of our membership that are consistent. And if that doesn’t happen, we’re looking at a whole new model, a whole new model, and that is reality,” said Smith. “If there is no federal engagement in this process, as Anthony Gonzalez has talked about, at the end of the day, it’s a whole new model.”

The first-in-the-nation law, signed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom and set to take effect in 2023, could upend amateur sports in the U.S. and trigger a legal challenge.

Newsom and others cast it as an attempt to bring more fairness to big-money college athletics and let players share in the wealth they create for their schools. Critics have long complained that universities are getting rich off the backs of athletes — often, black athletes struggling to get by financially.

“Other college students with a talent, whether it be literature, music, or technological innovation, can monetize their skill and hard work,” the governor said. “Student athletes, however, are prohibited from being compensated while their respective colleges and universities make millions, often at great risk to athletes’ health, academics and professional careers.”

Smith says the NCAA has made significant progress in recent years in that regard.

“We’ve made tremendous strides relative to care for our student athletes. The last piece we fought for hard and I’ve fought for years was full cost of attendance, health care, post-graduate services,” said Smith.

In May, Smith was named co-chair of the NCAA Board of Governors Federal and State Legislation Working Group, with a task of examining the NCAA’s position on name, image and likeness benefits.

Smith says he has struggled for years on how to craft such a rule.

“I’m not saying it can’t be done. I’ve struggled through all these years as an AD to trying to figure out how I’d create a regulation for that, to make ensure there’s fair play across this country, I just don’t know we’d do that,” said Smith.

Smith applauded California lawmakers’ decision to postpone enactment of the law to 2023.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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