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The NCAA has long engaged in a form of indentured servitude: Student athletes’ talent feeds the massive TV advertising and merchandising profit machine that is the NCAA. But if anyone points out that these fortunes are being made on the backs of kids who are paid, literally, nothing beyond their scholarships — and, worse, aren’t even allowed to profit independently from their own names or likenesses — it’s presented as some kind of wholesome learning experience.

Enough. College sports is big business. For the NCAA and its member schools to cash in on these students’ talents while denying the students themselves the right to do the same is an intolerable situation. The bipartisan measure moving through the Missouri Legislature to allow student athletes the right to their own profitability — modeled on similar measures in California and elsewhere — deserves passage.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association practices a cynical double standard regarding the amateur collegiate sports over which it reigns. It strictly prohibits its student athletes from profiting from their own names or likenesses — say, by selling autographed items or shooting commercials — on the argument that such commercialization taints the amateur purity of the sports. But at the same time, the schools those athletes attend make a bundle through television rights and other sources. The coaches of these unpaid stars make six- or seven-figure salaries. And the NCAA itself markets sports merchandise that’s in demand because of those student athletes.

Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association, put it exactly right in recent committee testimony in Missouri: “Apparel companies are paying colleges in the billions of dollars to require players to serve as walking billboards to advertise their logos and products. Meanwhile, the NCAA denies players third-party compensation, claiming it’s to protect players from the forces of commercialization.”

Last year, the California Legislature fought back on behalf of the students, passing a law giving them the right to profit from their own names and likenesses. What a novel concept! The NCAA fought like a wildcat to stop it. But, facing a crimson tide of opposition, the organization has since started the process of changing its bylaws to … allow students to profit from their own names and likenesses.

Those bylaw changes aren’t yet complete, but the deluge of states preparing laws similar to California’s is likely to keep the pressure on until they are. Last year, this newspaper predicted, hopefully, that other states would follow California’s lead. Now that’s happening. Missouri is among more than 20 states currently debating such laws.

The measures don’t create salaries for those students but rather prohibit anyone from interfering in their right to profit from their own stardom in other ways. Since just about everyone else is already profiting, it’s a simple matter of fairness.

— St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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