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Elite athletes approve of California name, image, likeness law, but it may not affect their recruitment

LOS ANGELES — In the aftermath of California enacting its Fair Pay to Play Act into law, the amateur sports world is buzzing about potential fallout with the NCAA.

Senate Bill 206 proposed making it illegal for schools to prevent athletes from profiting off their name, image and likeness, and it was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sept. 30. Beginning Jan. 1, 2023, California collegiate athletes will be allowed to earn endorsement and promotional income.

“I think it’s a great step in the right direction as far as allowing athletes to be compensated for what they’re doing,” said Alabama quarterback commit Bryce Young. “I’m glad to see these steps in the right direction.”

Young is a Chosen 25 dual-threat quarterback and leads the offense of No. 1 Mater Dei (Santa Ana, California). Initially a USC recruit before flipping to Alabama, he would had been unaffected even if he stuck with USC, unless he spent four or five years in college. If he were a few years younger, though, would the new law play a role in his recruiting?

“Personally, I don’t think so,” Young told USA TODAY High School Sports. “I think I still would have kind of prioritized the things I did in my recruitment process, but I definitely don’t think that that would be the universal answer. I think there’s a lot of people where that would have a lot to do with their decision. There are people that come from all different backgrounds, all different situations, all different circumstances, and I think it would affect everyone a little bit differently.”

Several of his Mater Dei teammates agreed. Four-star offensive lineman Myles Murao, a 2020 Washington commit, said there was “no way” it would have affected his recruitment.

Two 2022 stars who would have the potential to get real benefit from it, five-star cornerback Domani Jackson and four-star wide receiver CJ Williams, echoed these sentiments, saying there are more important things to consider when selecting a college.

“It definitely won’t affect my recruiting,” said Williams, who has offers from California schools including Cal and USC, but also outside the state including LSU and Michigan. “I’m going to go wherever fits me the best. Wherever I feel like at home, I have a family there. So, wherever that is, that’s where I’ll be at.”

However, many of Mater Dei’s students come from comfortable economic backgrounds. Young acknowledged he has been “blessed” with such an upbringing.

“I understand that’s not everyone’s situation,” Young said. “I feel like that answer would change tremendously depending on the person.”

St. Frances Academy, ranked No. 8 in the nation by USA TODAY High School Sports, has a much different demographic makeup. Co-head coach Henry Russell said more than 90% of students at the school are on financial assistance.

“To this day, we still have to help kids get home to and from college,” Russell said. “The NCAA’s gotta do more to help these kids and families out because they’re making millions off of them.”

That said, some of his athletes say the money wouldn’t affect them. Clearly, not all elite prospects will put money first when considering their college choice.

Four-star 2020 Michigan commit Blake Corum plans to play in the NFL – so if he can become a better athlete at a different school, the money can wait.

“I’m not really worried about money right now. I mean, it’s cool and all, but my mindset is, I’m going to the league no matter what so I’m really going to make my money at the end of the day no matter what,” Corum said.

Five-star defensive end Chris Braswell, a 2020 Alabama commit, echoed that sentiment.

“At the end of day, if you’ve got the mindset that you’re going to the league, it don’t matter if you get the money now or later,” Braswell said.

Unless other states pass similar legislation, California schools will be in a unique recruiting position. With the opportunity to earn endorsement money in the Golden State, the recruiting world might tilt toward California. On Sept. 11, the same day the California Senate unanimously approved of SB206, the NCAA Board of Governors sent a letter to Newsom that threatened the bill would result in California schools “being unable to compete in NCAA competitions.”

When asked about the potential consequence of that threat by USA TODAY HSS, Mater Dei head coach Bruce Rollinson laughed.

“That’ll be in the courts for the next 20 years,” Rollinson said. “Because it’ll take the NCAA about 20 years to figure out how to fight it. I think they’re going to test the waters. I think that the smarter people from the college presidents and the universities are going to say ‘All right, what do we do here? We can’t have a ban of the Pac-12 schools.’ To me, that’s not even realistic. I think that they’re going to get out ahead of it and come up with a solution.”

The bill was proposed by California state Sen. Nancy Skinner. While it was on the floor, her office heard from representatives from other states who said they planned to propose similar bills if SB206 were to pass.

If other states were to join, that could appease people like Murao, who called it “unfair” to schools in other states, and Russell, who said it would “be a circus” if only one state allowed players to make money off their name and likeness.

But recruitment is just one factor the NCAA is afraid of with such a law. The NCAA and schools fear brands will redirect marketing dollars from schools toward players, causing the organization and universities to lose money.

When told of that thought, Mater Dei head coach Bruce Rollinson gave a stare.

“But,” he started, then paused and shrugged. “Really?” Rollinson laughed.

“I mean, just go to Nike and say ‘OK, pay us more money or we’re going to adidas or we’re going to Under Armour.’ I mean, isn’t that being done already?”

Yet athletes including Williams expressed hesitation when told of this potential issue.

“I don’t know if that’s something that I would be very fond of. That’s something that should go to the school for their benefit. For their buildings, stuff like that. Not for the players’ benefit. That’s not something we need. We don’t need to get a big head off of it,” he said.

But in many cases, people are paying money to see players, not just the school.

Rollinson remembers visiting USC when Mater Dei alumnus Matt Barkley attended. The bookstore was cleared out of his No. 7 jersey. In the stadium, droves of fans wore his number.

“Everybody’s making money, and I know there’s this, $250,000, $300,000 education. Yeah, but that’s pittance compared to the millions of dollars that they’re paying the coaches at the university,” Rollinson said. “And I know they have the best of everything and facilities but last time I looked it’s a free country and we have a pretty good capitalism system.”

While Braswell and Corum said their recruitment wouldn’t have been affected by such a law had it applied to them, both are in favor of athletes being allowed to make money.

“No one should be using your name for free and you’re not getting anything from it. No matter if you’re a college athlete (or not),” Braswell said. “Somebody using your name, you should get paid for it. … It’s your own brand. … Yeah, we’re getting a free education and all that stuff, but it’s our name, too, at the end of the day.”

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