Padecky: Cash for NIL, coming soon to a high school near you
Not today and not tomorrow, but sooner than we can imagine: High school athletes will be making money off their Name, Image and Likeness.
Absurd, some will say. Won’t happen. Can’t happen. Ridiculous. These are just kids. Teenagers. Let them be kids. Adulthood will come soon enough. They’re growing up too fast as it is. Isn’t the internet corrupting them enough?
Inevitable, others will say, after what happened last week. America is the land of opportunity. Find a need and fill it. A gifted athlete can help his financially strapped family. Mom won’t have to work two jobs. What pencil-pushing autocrat would be so cold to prevent that?
Lemme at it, still others will say. They will burst blood vessels getting in on the action. No qualms here. No hesitancy. No moral dilemma. If there’s a buck to be made, the free enterprise bloodhounds will sniff it out. And they won’t be polite about it. Money dissolves cultural niceties.
“I think it’s a no-brainer,” said Mike Baddeley, a Petaluma lawyer, once an eight-year member of the Petaluma City School Board, two of them as Board president. “I’m all for it.”
“There’s probably a very good possibility it will happen,” said Tom Bonfigli, the legendary basketball coach at Cardinal Newman, now at St. Vincent.
“It’s absolutely necessary to explore this point,” said Tony Keefer, 39, the two-time Junior College All-America quarterback and member of the SRJC Hall of Fame who prepped at Cardinal Newman.
Last week, college athletes were given permission to make money off their Name, Image and Likeness (NIL). The stampede to shoe deals, appearance money and stand-there-and-let-me-take-your-picture-for-10-bucks was immediate.
Just a brief scan that day revealed this: an Auburn wide receiver is hustling sweet tea, an Arkansas wide receiver is making money selling dog treats and — this brilliant idea is for the times — a Texas running back will send you a personalized video message for $100.
This is not to suggest high school sports is the same cash cow as the billion-dollar college sports industry. In fact, as most high school coaches will admit, they end up losing money during their season. More than one coach has told me that a student-athlete had so little money the coach ended up buying a meal for the kid on a road trip. Not to mention helping buy a kid a helmet or shoes.
Not every kid in Sonoma County, or any other county for that matter, lives high on the hill. Talk to any coach in any sport and they will tell a story that will make your heart ache — a good kid whose family can’t afford participation fees, gear or simply time away from work.
Kids can work to help their families. California state law allows kids 16-17 years old to work up to 4 hours on school days, 8 hours on non-school days, not more than 48 hours a week.
“What people don’t realize,” Keefer said, “is every kid who plays a sport in high school is taking a job. The hours spent after school, during competition, on the weekends, means countless hours. This doesn’t take into account what the student-athlete does in the off-season. Make no mistake, playing sports is working.”
The key word here, of course, is “playing.” How can it be work if a kid is “playing?” The answer: Watch a high school kid at football or basketball practice. This isn’t a 6-year-old sitting on the floor with Legos sucking on a popsicle.
Of course, there are rules. The California Interscholastic Federation has very strict definitions on what it considers amateur status. The ceiling is not high: “From any and all sources, athletic awards totaling $250 in value.” The amount expands to $500 for participation in post-season competition.
“Bylaws set forth the internal policies and procedures of any organization,” Baddeley said. “They are subject to amendment to adapt and change as needed and/or as maybe required by changes in the law.”
In other words, the CIF bylaws can be rewritten if there’s public pressure, common sense and whip-smart attorneys like Baddeley beating down the door. There are amendments to the U.S. Constitution which, at last check, were even more important than what CIF thinks.
So, the question was posed to Jerry Robinson: When he was at Cardinal Newman in the ‘70s, would he take money, be it for signing autographs or having his picture taken in front of a Dairy Queen? Robinson was a high school star, a NCAA Hall of Famer in football and a 13-year player in the NFL.
“As long as I wouldn’t be violating any rules,” Robinson said, “of course I would. Who wouldn’t?”
For those still believing high school sports are innocent and pristine, all about school spirit and pep rallies and sis boom bah, those people also must believe Mickey Mouse is real and the Tooth Fairy is a family friend.