Bruce Pearl just wants everyone to keep a little perspective.
After a national debate blew its way over to the Plains in recent weeks, it should’ve come as no surprise that Auburn’s outspoken and outgoing men’s basketball head coach would be the first representative of Auburn athletics to speak at length on the possibility of college athletes using their likenesses for profit.
But he certainly wasn’t stamping his feet or waving his arms like the charismatic coach is known to do courtside.
Part of his call, in fact, was for cool heads and calculated discussion.
Elsewhere, readers have seen just about anything but that. California lawmakers called the system a “farce” when they signed a bill into law in late September which will make it illegal for colleges in the state to deny their athletes opportunities to profit from their name, image or likeness. In response, NCAA president Mark Emmert went so far as to call the measures an “existential threat” to college sports.
Something’s been lost in all that rhetoric, Pearl told reporters this week.
The system still works in a positive way, Pearl said, calling for a step back — even while agreeing that tweaks should be made to the system to allow athletes the fair use of their image.
“What they’ve got to do is they’ve got to take the system that they have and make it better,” Pearl said.
These measures do not call for a pay-for-play model. Instead, they allow college athletes to make money using the fame they’ve garnered in their own time, by making it illegal for the NCAA’s member schools to bar them from doing so.
California’s bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan approval and is set to go into effect in January 2023. Since then, a Florida bill has been thrust into motion that could launch into effect as early as July 2020. At least 11 states have seen similar bills introduced, per CBS Sports.
The movement’s gaining momentum quickly, but Pearl’s hope is that such movement doesn’t go toppling a system that’s been good for athletes for decades — nor does a counter-push.
“Find a way to have the athletes be able to benefit from their image and their likeness without changing the whole system,” Pearl said in a press conference Tuesday. “I think there’s a way to make it better. I think they’re on the right track, and I hope they’ll find a way to do that.”
A week earlier, the football team’s more introverted head coach Gus Malzahn deferred to elsewhere.
“It’s an important issue. I know our league commissioner will be on top of that and everything will be settled as far as that goes,” he said.
In a statement sent to Sports Illustrated, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey called for an engagement in “thoughtful discourse” considering the current structure of college sports and the interests of present-day athletes.
It was California Gov. Gavin Newsom who said there was a “farce” to that structure, in an interview with The New York Times. Emmert was quoted as calling the changes an “existential threat” in a story from CBS Sports.
“Every single student in the university can market their name, image and likeness; they can go and get a YouTube channel, and they can monetize that,” Newsom was quoted as saying in The New York Times. “The only group that can’t are athletes. Why is that?”
The NCAA working group assembled to examine issues surrounding name, image and likeness is expected to present findings — and, possibly, reform proposals — to the NCAA later this month.
“If you look, intercollegiate athletics has had an incredible impact on this country over the last 50 years, just from the standpoint of diversity and the way it’s integrated our society,” Pearl said. “That sometimes gets lost in the discussion. That’s going to continue.
“The university system and what we do is not broken. We just have to continue to make it better. I think we’re on that path.”