Josh Rosen has an idea. A big idea. A bold idea.
Like millions of us, Rosen has something of a love-hate relationship with college athletics – so much good within the enterprise, yet so much about the student-athlete experience that could be better. Unlike millions of us, Rosen has actually participated at the highest level – he was a star quarterback at UCLA, became the No. 10 pick in the NFL draft after three years, studied economics, and thought a lot about how the whole thing functions.
Last week, as the page was poised to turn – Rosen preparing for camp with the Arizona Cardinals, college football preparing to move on without him – he had an exit interview of sorts with Yahoo Sports. What he wanted to talk about was his big idea.
Josh Rosen envisions an NCAA that actually works for all involved parties – fulfilling the lofty ideals of higher education and addressing the brass-tacks reality of fair athlete compensation. And he doesn’t want to blow up the entire thing to make it happen.
“I’m not against the NCAA,” Rosen said. “I do strongly believe in the student-athlete experience, and I don’t think the free market is the way to go. I also don’t want a system that was created in the 1950s to stay the way it was. I want it to be like the iPhone, constantly updating to stay current with the times.
“I want this idea to get people talking. I want this to sort of be the WD-40 that unlocks the stuck gears of how to compensate student-athletes.”
Rosen is smart enough to know that vaguely expressed dissatisfaction with the status quo unlocks nothing. Whining gets nowhere. So he’s gotten down to specifics.
Rosen reached out to Tye Gonser, a partner in Weinberg Gonser LLP, a Southern California business law firm, and USC law student Bryan Bitzer. Together they put the idea on paper. Gonser, who was a baseball player at Lafayette College, passed along the work exclusively to Yahoo Sports.
Working title: “The Modernization of College Athletics as an Incentive for Graduation.”
Basically, Rosen & Co. envision athletes being able to profit within the NCAA’s established amateurism philosophy. Instead of railing against it, they want to work with it.
Under this plan, athletes can profit from various revenue opportunities that arise during their college careers – after they graduate. No diploma, no money. For players who aren’t guaranteed professional millions, pocketing several thousand dollars on their way into the working world could be a considerable incentive to earn a degree.
A key element is in forming an independent, non-profit entity – referred to in the document as a “Clearinghouse” – that works with the NCAA and acts as an intermediary between the players and potential endorsers. It would serve as a built-in buffer that alleviates the problems associated with agents and boosters who have no real regard for amateurism rules.
Upon arrival on campus, players can sign up to participate in the program, and the clearinghouse would then be the licensing representative. It would negotiate on behalf of athletes with interested business parties. Money earned for name, image and likeness – jerseys, trading cards, etc., including a reincarnation of the popular but currently extinct football and basketball video games – would go into an account that the players can access once they graduate.
Revenue would be generated on three tiers: national, regional and local agreements. It would then be distributed into individual player accounts; an NCAA-wide player pool; the NCAA itself; the clearinghouse; and a general scholarship fund that would funnel financial aid for academic purposes back into communities that produce the athletes.
The last point is a big one with Rosen, Gonser and Bitzer. They foresee an idea that pulls in all corners of university life, and life in general, and helps fund a wide spectrum of academic interests. They want a board of directors overseeing the project that includes people removed from the athletic realm – educators and business leaders and others who aren’t financially invested in the wins and losses of sports.
Players would forfeit their rights to that money if they are rendered permanently ineligible to compete in NCAA athletics, or if they are convicted of various felony offenses.
Rosen understands this much: It’s not a perfect idea. Adding another layer of NCAA bureaucracy to act as revenue agents for student-athletes would create its own set of problems and complications. There are other facets that would benefit from a tweaking.
But Rosen knows that nothing changes if nobody offers any ideas on what to change. There are a million former college athletes who complain about the system, but not many offering serious thoughts on how to improve it. He’s never been an ideological wallflower, never been one who takes the safe, stick-to-sports approach.
In this instance, Rosen wants to use his considerable platform to catalyze the discussion about enhancing the NCAA experience for everyone. He wants something that appeals to NCAA president Mark Emmert and the disaffected student-athlete who feels exploited.
“It’s an idea, and I think it’s a cool one,” he said. “We need to find a way where we can mutually push in the same direction. This can legitimately help both sides, the college side and the student-athlete side.”
Rosen made a lot of headlines around this time last year, heading into his final season at UCLA, when he discussed the difficulty inherent in trying to be both an elite college athlete and an elite college student. He was right, but the backlash was significant.
“What people misunderstood – it’s not impossible, but it’s really hard,” Rosen said. “I get tagged [on social media] every three months with articles about some athlete graduating in a really hard major – I should be getting tagged every day. Schools should find a way to help every kid succeed in their chosen major.
“I see an NCAA that works in conjunction with student-athletes, not against them. I just hope this starts a productive conversation that is beneficial to all parties.”
Start the conversation. Josh Rosen’s time has passed as a college athlete, but maybe the time has come for his idea on how to improve college athletics.
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