Going Pro At WVU?

Picture, if you will, an ad featuring a big picture of Austin Kendall and the large-type caption, “Before every big game, I rely on Acme Cleat Cleaners.”

West Virginia University football team quarterback Austin Kendall getting paid to endorse a product? Not as ridiculous as you may think.

California has stirred controversy in the sports world by enacting a law that allows college athletes to be paid for endorsements and to hire agents. NCAA officials, who regulate sports at the college level, have threatened to ban Golden State institutions from competition — or fine them.

College-level athletes are supposed to be amateurs, not compensated for their efforts except through scholarships and other aid for their higher educations. Yes, I know: Quite a few of the top performers get under-the-table benefits ranging from new cars to highly-paid, no-show summer jobs from well-to-do boosters. Out-front money is a no-no, however.

Except in California.

House of Delegates member Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, told MetroNews he plans to introduce a bill similar to the California measure here.

Part of his rationale is that college sports is a billion-dollar-a-year business for both the institutions and television. Why shouldn’t the athletes get a share?

Fair enough, as far as it goes.

Still, making the NCAA nothing more than NFL Lite leaves a bad taste in the mouths of some people. There’s something to be said for at least partially amateur athletics.

Practically speaking, however, Fluharty’s plan is flawed deeply for those of us who like to see WVU teams sometimes able to stay in the game with the big guns in their sports.

If the California scheme spreads nationwide — and West Virginia emulating them would be a step toward that — WVU suddenly will find itself with an enormous handicap. Look at it this way: There are plenty of big businesses in California to offer endorsement deals to college athletes. Ditto for many other states.

Not so much here in West Virginia.

Currently, good athletes may be tempted to come to WVU because standing out here exposes them well to the pros and, besides, the under-the-table money can be comparable. That would be less likely in competition against states with richer business communities eager to pay for endorsements by athletes.

West Virginia probably can’t compete in an endorsement war.

Here’s hoping the NCAA finds a way to shut California down, then. Hopping on Sacramento’s bandwagon, as Fluharty suggests, wouldn’t help.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.


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