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Three Cheers For Nancy Skinner

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Paul briefly alluded to this, but it’s worth celebrating the California legislature standing up to the NCAA cartel:

Termed out of the State Assembly in 2014 and considering a run for the State Senate, Skinner had spent much of her adult life championing causes that one might expect from a Berkeley activist: organizing graduate assistant teachers, banning Styrofoam from fast-food businesses and raising taxes on the rich.

“All of a sudden the light bulb was going off,” Skinner said of the discussion at the Rotary meeting. “Rather than being the bystander going, ‘Gosh, this is so unfair, how do these people get away with this?’, I’m like, ‘Hey, if I’m in the Senate, can the state do something about it?’”

She is about to find out.

Skinner, who was elected to the State Senate three years ago, produced a bill that would allow college athletes in California to be paid for the use of their name, image and likeness — be they basketball stars signing their own marketing deals or water polo players advertising offers of swim lessons.

The Fair Pay to Play Act, which Skinner wrote with Steven Bradford, a fellow Democrat in the State Senate, cleared the State Assembly on Monday by a vote of 72 to 0, with support from civil rights advocates and free-market proponents. A version of the bill had already cleared the Senate.

Supporters of imposing unique burdens on student athletes remain as disingenuous as ever:

Scott and other leaders in college sports — including the N.C.A.A. president, Mark Emmert, in a letter to California legislators this summer — paint a doomsday scenario for the state’s athletic teams if the bill becomes law. They say that colleges in California could be prohibited from competing for N.C.A.A. championships because they would have an unfair recruiting advantage — being able to lure athletes with the possibility of cashing in on anything from jersey sales to sponsorship deals.

The idea that there is a level playing field in recruiting now is, needless to say, absurd. You know what gives your team an “unfair” recruiting advantage? Having enough money to hire Nick Saban! For some reason, it’s only when compensation for players rather than coaches and administrators comes that the competitive balance the NCAA doesn’t actually have trumps all other interests. But even if they claim was true — if we just pretended that Alabama and Clemson don’t play in the BCS championship year after year anyway — it would still be a bad argument.
“Fans would like it more if they weren’t paid” is not actually a good reason to not pay players.

In addition, it’s not California Emmert is really worried about. What do you think is the more likely eventual equilibrium — the NCAA kicks the nation’s largest state (and any other state that passes a similar bill) out to form a competing organization that can attract better players, or the NCAA permits everybody to do this? I’ll give you three guesses and the first two don’t count!

Skinner is also 100% right that the same dumb arguments are trotted out to pretend that people who teach classes can’t be workers if they are also graduate students:

Skinner sees her bill as a catalyst rather than an end unto itself.

As she sat in her office at the State Capitol last week, Skinner reflected on her days as a graduate student listening to Harry Edwards, the sociologist who has advised many athletes on social activism and who helped inspire Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the American Olympians who raised gloved fists on the medals stand at the Mexico City Games in 1968 to call attention to racial injustice. 

Skinner has framed the current debate as a replay of her first political fight — organizing her fellow teacher’s assistants for the right to be treated as employees, with pay and health benefits.

In this case, she believes that an athlete should be treated like any other student with a marketable skill. An engineering undergraduate who creates a robot and a music student with a chance to work as a club D.J. would have no limits on what they could earn for their efforts, except what others were willing to pay.

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