DDF posted this interesting article in the weekend links.  The article describes the saga of Williams golfer Dylan Dethier ’14, who was almost disqualified from participating in the 2013 NCAA Division 3 golf championships because he wrote a book which was about to be published which was related to golf:

The book (which you should definitely consider buying here, by the way!) entitled 18 in America, was my story of the year I spent between high school and college.

Seeking adventure, I’d spent a year living out of the back of my car, driving around the country and playing at least one round of golf in every state in the lower 48. I’d played the cheapest, most accessible public courses and wormed my way into the strangest, most elite private clubs, exploring the U.S. through the lens of golf, finding out where the game fit in. Eighteen years old plus 18 holes in every state made 18 in America. Anyway, the book is about people who play golf and where they play it — but it’s much more about a teenager surviving in his Subaru, plus it preceded my time at Williams College and had nothing to do with my golf ability anyways. A 20-handicapper could have written the same story.

The NCAA initially suspended Dethier because in writing the book “[Dethier] was deemed to have used [his] athletic ability for commercial gain.”  The story of the back and forth and the ultimate outcome for Dethier and the Williams golf team is interesting (and a little sad).  I highly recommend that you read the article.

What I wanted to focus on, however, is the recently passed California law which, according to the LA Times, “prohibits the NCAA from barring a university from competition if its athletes are compensated for the use of their name, image or likeness beginning Jan. 1, 2023.”  According to the LA Times

Proponents say the bill could be transformative for young athletes, especially for those of color and from poor backgrounds. For too long, they argue, corporations and colleges have been able to excessively profit off these students, even after they have left college and joined professional sports teams.

Supporters said the bill would also create new opportunities for female athletes who have limited professional opportunities to profit off their abilities in college. The bill passed the California Legislature unanimously.

On one level, the law seems to make perfect sense.  Why shouldn’t an athlete who helps to generate major dollars for his or her university be allowed to endorse products, or sell autographs, or get a job at the local deli to make spending money? As backers of the California law note, there are no direct costs to colleges and universities (although compliance costs are not likely to be zero).

I am pretty sympathetic to the idea that student athletes should be able to get jobs, and get endorsement dollars, if those opportunities are available to them.  The potential problem, however, goes back to the original reasons (or at least the ostensible reasons) these activities were prohibited in the first place.  That is, if athletes are free to accept outside employment, endorsement dollars, etc., then its pretty easy to envision the marketplace quickly devolving into a situation where athletes go to school where they can reap the most money, money which would essentially be outside the control of the colleges or the NCAA.  You might think this is OK (making money is, in some measure, the American way!), but it opens up lots of potential abuses.

I don’t think anyone really believes that Dethier’s book was any kind of corruption.  But what if some rich Williams alum offered a hotshot high school golfer a $50,000 a year summer job at his or her investment fund if the golfer attended Williams?  Are we comfortable with that?  I’m not, but I’m willing to concede that my position may based mostly on “this is the way its always been, so its probably right.”  For example, right now I think that same alum could make a similar deal with an amazing high school actor or singer who wanted to come to Williams, and that doesn’t really bother me.

But athletics are already entwined with the admissions process in a way which doesn’t always seem right, so I’m leery about opening it up to even more outside influence at Williams, and other colleges and universities.  What do you think?

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