Ohio State campus-area lawmakers are willing to discuss allowing athletes to be paid for their name, image and likeness. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | Managing Editor for Multimedia

Ohio State’s athletics generates hundreds of millions of dollars annually, but players cannot earn compensation from their name, image and likeness under NCAA rules.

In the wake of California’s “Fair Pay for Play Act,” which allows student athletes to receive compensation from transactions such as jersey sales, autographs and endorsements without compromising their eligibility, Ohio State campus-area state lawmakers weighed in on the possibility of allowing them to generate revenue of their own.

Two state representatives and two state senators represent Ohio State’s campus area. State Sen. Andrew Brenner, R-Powell, said there should be a stipend of some sort, and he would consider legislation if it came forward. State Rep. Kristin Boggs, D-Columbus, said she’s looking forward to a robust discussion on the issue.

The California law is set to take effect Jan. 1, 2023.

“[State laws] would put some schools at a disadvantage in other states unfairly, so I think that if something needs to be done, it’s probably at the national level,” Brenner said. “But, looking at it, I think if a student is given an athletic scholarship, it doesn’t give them enough money to be able to go, you know, on a date or go home for the holidays.”

State Rep. David Leland, D-Columbus and State Sen. Hearcel Craig, D-Columbus, who also represent the campus area, did not respond to requests for comment.

U.S. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio, who represents Northeast Ohio and played wide receiver for the Ohio State football team from 2003-06 said in an email that, in principle, student-athletes should be able to profit off their name, image and likeness.

He said the issue should be handled at the federal level.

“The current California law is not workable due to its state-by-state approach,” Gonzalez said. “We need one national solution that provides safeguards for student-athletes while ensuring they are able to receive income off of their name, image and likeness.”

These lawmakers’ decisions have a large impact on how Ohio State conducts its business. Ohio State has one of the largest athletic programs in the country; in 2018, revenue from the athletic department topped $205 million, according to the NCAA Financial Report.

Lawmakers in Colorado, Florida, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Washington are considering legislation similar to California’s. In New York, a bill has been proposed that would allow for the same compensation as well as mandate direct payments from universities to student-athletes.

During an Oct. 1 briefing, athletic director Gene Smith said he would not schedule games against schools in California or in any other state that had different laws than Ohio and the NCAA. It is unclear how Ohio State would proceed if Ohio’s laws differed from NCAA regulations.

Smith is part of an NCAA working group that is examining the issue of student-athlete compensation for name, image and likeness, and the group will present a report to the Board of Governors on Oct. 29. 

Smith said one of his concerns is that laws that allow unrestricted compensation for name, image and likeness could allow schools with richer alumni bases to gain a large competitive edge by attracting better recruits. In his hypothetical example, he referenced Cameo, a service that allows people to pay celebrities for a shoutout.

“Say [Ohio State associate athletic director] Jerry Emig is my star linebacker, and he’s on Cameo. What is it, $150, $200 or something like that for him to do a shoutout to your best friend? All 550,000 Buckeyes across this country, you need to make sure you hook up with Jerry and do a cameo and pay him $150,” Smith said.

Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA football player and founder of the National College Players Association, a non-profit advocacy group, said he doesn’t believe allowing student-athletes to be compensated would create a more unlevel playing field than what already exists.

“There is no level playing field. And, matter of fact, multiple court rulings have also stated that the NCAA’s current rules do not bring forth competitive equity, a level playing field,” Huma said. “So why use it as a reason to deny equal rights and freedoms to college athletes?”

Huma said some Division I schools, such as Ivy League universities, don’t offer athletic scholarships, while a five-year scholarship at Stanford can be valued at more than $300,000. Huma said the differences in how schools offer scholarships, stipends and health care already show a lack of equity.

Right now, Huma said he thinks Congress may do more harm than good for student-athletes.

“States are in a position to be an honest broker for the interests of their athletes, whereas the NCAA and its colleges have a conflict of interest,” Huma said. “And we see now, very visibly, what that conflict of interest leads to. It leads to players being robbed of equal rights and economic freedoms.”