Bradley President Calls Effort To Allow Student Athlete Endorsements 'Misguided'

Oct 3, 2019

Legislation being considered in the Illinois House would allow college athletes to get paid for endorsements.

It mirrors a law recently signed in California that would let students sell their name, image and likeness — just like the pros.

The measure, which is scheduled to go into effect January 2023, is meant to combat exploitation of students.

But Bradley University President Gary Roberts, who previously practiced sports law, said that only applies to a tiny number of athletes.

“The student athletes that we focus on are the football players and men’s basketball players, who are the ones generating all the revenues, and we overlook the fact that that’s about 2 percent of the kids playing college sports under the NCAA banner,” he said.

Regardless of whether allowing endorsements is more fair for students, Roberts expects the California law will be shot down in court, arguing that individual states do not have the authority to play by their own rules in a nationwide league. He said the changes would have to be made by Congress or the NCAA.

But if the measure were allowed to take effect, Roberts said, it would only help Big 10 schools grow larger at the expense of smaller institutions.

“They’re going to create pots of money that they can go out and essentially buy kids by giving them these phony endorsement deals — and that’s going to upset the way kids look at their opportunities and which schools they choose to attend,” he said. “It’s going to create a system whereby the disparities in athletic performance between schools is going to just widen.”

Roberts said that would crumble the existing structure of Division 1 sports, creating a larger gap between the “haves” and “have nots” of higher education.

He said Bradley University, which currently has about 225 student athletes, can offer a high quality education and a different campus experience. But that could be hard to sell if a university with a bigger name in sports offered athletes a $500,000 endorsement.

Roberts said he understands the need to give “exploited” athletes more, but thinks there’s a better way to do that.

“I hope that this NCAA committee will come up with new rules that will allow us to be more generous with this small number of kids who are generating the revenues, without completely pulling the rug out from under a system that is benefitting hundreds of thousands of kids every year.”

The NCAA commissioned a working group to examine endorsements for student athletes. A report will be issued at the end of October.