DeKALB – Former Northern Illinois standout football linebacker Bobby Jones IV said he felt well supported as a Huskies student-athlete, an opportunity that helped lead him to an opportunity to graduate and work in law enforcement in his native Florida.
Even with that support, Jones knew from experience what a few extra dollars in the pocket of athletes could do.
“It would have been a big help because we didn’t have as big of a budget as other schools such as Ohio State or Nebraska, who we ended up on the same playing field with,” Jones said. “Definitely was a struggle as far as the food consumption because a lot of the players weren’t able to keep their weights up or maintain their strength and everything throughout the season, just because of the lack of extra resources that we had.”
College athletics – football and men’s basketball in particular – are major businesses at universities around the country. With the NCAA itself now generating about $1 billion a year and individual schools generating millions, the push for athletes to be compensated in some way is growing, and the NCAA itself is signaling that changes should soon come.
Illinois became the second state to make national headlines, after California, with the effort led by state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch to pass legislation that would allow NCAA athletes to profit off their name, face or likeness.
The bill, HB 3904, passed the Democratic-controlled state House on Wednesday with an overwhelming majority, 86-25. Rep. Jeff Keicher of Sycamore, whose 70th District includes NIU’s DeKalb campus, voted against the proposed bill in committee but went on to vote in favor of it went it came to the floor.
Northern Illinois Athletic Director Sean Frazier had signed his name to a letter with 10 other Illinois Athletic Directors at NCAA institutions, voicing wariness about states passing such legislation at the state level.
Frazier says the issue of when college athletes can be compensated should be addressed by the NCAA and the federal government so there’s a consistent national standard.
“The only issue I have with the political landscape is that for us to have 50 different versions of this bill, if we do it individually through the states, it creates this massive problem of trying to monitor it,” Frazier said.
A day before the Illinois House vote, on Oct. 29, the NCAA’s Board of Governors voted to permit athletes to profit from the use of their name, image or likeness and directed each of the three divisions to create rules that would be in place by January – but no explicit guidance.
After California passed a measure allowing college athletes in that state to profit from the use of their image, Duke men’s basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski, became one of the first major college coaches to support it.
Krzyzewski’s support was an important factor in the mind of NIU men’s basketball coach, Mark Montgomery.
“I think once California, that state, made it legal, or whatever they did, it gave other coaches a chance to jump out there,” Montgomery said. “When you’ve got strong coaches like Coach Krzyzewski out there advocating for it, the NCAA listens and tries to do the best they can to help the student-athletes, or figure out a rule so the student-athletes can get something for their likeness.”
According to Welch, the bill also is a direct attempt to ensure a level playing field.
“California now has a competitive advantage in the recruiting space, and we need to move at warp speed to level the playing field from a recruiting perspective,” he said in a statement to WAND-TV of Decatur.
For Frazier, concerns about making sure the gap doesn’t widen are the reason he doesn’t want state legislatures leading the way on the issue.
“I don’t want to reduce opportunities because of the fact that I’m priced out of the marketplace,” Frazier said. “I’m only going to be able to do so much from a financial standpoint, and if the gap continuously gets wider because I’m not able to compensate because of some type of edict that says I have to do X, Y, and Z, obviously there’s going to be concerns that I have. ... Anything that’s mandated or required because of this particular edict is concerning to make sure that the gap doesn’t constantly get wider between the haves and the have-nots.”
One of the ways Jones echoed Frazier’s sentiment of support was through the assistance of cost-of-attendance, which also covers costs not neatly wrapped into the concept of a “full scholarship,” as laid out by that specific scholastic institution.
“We had cost-of-attendance, they brought that in for us my last two years,” Jones said. “That was a big help. I feel like as far as like players who weren’t from Illinois, were from the South like myself, or from the West Coast, they had good support to make sure we were able to get back home to our families.”
Montgomery said he’s learning about the evolving issue from multiple monthly compliance meetings.
“I listened to a coach say 10 years ago you can only give them nuts and bagels, but then you couldn’t put cream cheese on the bagels, so now we can give them cream cheese on the bagels, and you can get unlimited meals,” Montgomery said. “We’re at the Stage 1 of this process, and it’s going to take time to evolve.”