UCLA coach Chip Kelly was succinct when asked his opinion of California's new law that would allow college athletes to be paid for the use of their names and likenesses.
"It doesn't matter what we think. It's the law," Kelly said.
The Pac-12 Conference has condemned the law, which was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday. Coaches across the league were uncertain about what it might mean for them, especially in terms of recruiting. Four of the league's teams are located in California: Stanford, Cal, UCLA and USC.
The law does not take effect until 2023. The schools would not pay the players for their likenesses, but players could be compensated by outside companies. Other states are considering similar legislation.
Kelly wasn't alone among his Pac-12 counterparts in his pragmatism. Almost all of the league's coaches responded that they were taking a wait-and-see approach to the issue when asked about it. The conference, however, was clear.
"This legislation will lead to the professionalization of college sports and many unintended consequences related to this professionalism, imposes a state law that conflicts with national rules, will blur the lines for how California universities recruit student-athletes and compete nationally, and will likely reduce resources and opportunities for student-athletes in Olympic sports and have a negative disparate impact on female student-athletes," the Pac-12's statement said.
The concern among coaches is that top recruits might favor teams in California because of the opportunity to make money. Or, it could hurt recruiting if California teams are declared ineligible for postseason play because the new law conflicts with NCAA rules.
"We believe that policy change around student-athlete name, image and likeness needs to be addressed at the national level to assure consistency and a level playing field across all states and intercollegiate athletic conferences," said a statement released by the office of the president at Cal.
Stanford released a similar statement, which said "true progress can only be achieved when it is undertaken at the national level, with appropriate safeguards against unintended consequences."
Kelly was at odds with the conference when he said he agreed with the premise of the new law and said it was the "right thing to do."
"It doesn't cost the universities, it doesn't cost the NCAA, and what it did before is it put restrictions on athletes and it no longer does and I think it's progress," he said. "You know, the Olympics used to just be for amateurs. The Olympic model changed over time, so I would imagine the NCAA model has to change over time."
Oregon coach Mario Cristobal also walked the fine line of wanting to do what's right by his players while also acknowledging he hadn't really studied the issue.
"I certainly believe that in any way that we can help the student-athletes I think it's our obligation, our responsibility. We certainly do a lot for them here. I know what it's like. I've been there," Cristobal said. "I don't know enough about how, what the rules are, what the format is for that. I'm all for making sure that we maximize what they can benefit or how they can benefit."
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham expressed confidence the NCAA would address the matter long before the law takes hold. Indeed, the main governing body for collegiate sports has a committee that has been looking at the issue. A report is due later this fall.
"I'm sure by then (2023) things will get ironed out where it's equitable. So that's so far away that we don't want to deal with it right now," he said. "We don't need to deal with it right now. But I don't think it's going to be something that throws everything out of whack. I think they'll find a way to make it workable," he said.
Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin echoed Whittingham: "I think there's going to be a lot of different changes before 2023 with this whole thing, they've been talking about it for a while. I'll answer that in 2023."
Washington coach Chris Petersen clearly wanted to distance himself from the issue.
"I don't know how all this is going to go," he said. "Luckily it's not a problem I have to solve. So, good luck."
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