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Gene Smith: College Sports Need 'Federal Help' To Keep Amateur Model

Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith answers questions during a news conference on Dec. 4, 2018, in Columbus.
Jay LaPrete
Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith answers questions during a news conference on Dec. 4, 2018, in Columbus.

Ohio State University Athletic Director Gene Smith wants federal help to guarantee a level playing field following passage of a California law letting college athletes in the state sign endorsement deals and hire agents.
“We can’t have a situation where we have schools and/or states with different rules for an organization that’s going to compete together,” Smith told reporters Tuesday. “It can’t happen. It’s not reality. And so if that happens, what we need is federal help.”

Without federal intervention, Smith said, “We’re looking at a whole new model.”

California’s new law, which is known as the Fair Pay To Play act, goes into effect in 2023. In the meantime, Smith co-chairs a NCAA committee studying the issue of players capitalizing on their likeness. The group expects to issue a report later this month.

Smith, a former football player at Notre Dame, declined to give his personal thoughts on whether college athletes should be able to sign endorsement deals and hire agents.

He did say, “I struggle after all these years as an A.D. trying to figure out how I’d create a regulation for that to ensure there’s fair play across this country. I just don’t know how we’d do that.”

Smith says if college athletes in California are allowed to get paid for their likeness while their peers from other states cannot, he would not schedule contests with schools from California.

In August, Ohio State announced plans to play San Jose State University in football in 2023.

Smith's comments follow Ohio State University President Michael Drake criticizing the California bill, which at the time had not been signed into law.

"We don’t want to have things turn into professional sports," Drake told All Sides With Ann Fisher. "There are professional sports available now. Great. We want to do what we can to maintain collegiate athletics."

The NCAA has long banned paying college athletes. But in recent decades, college sports has exploded into a multi-billion-dollar industry resulting in universities receiving more and more money. Ohio State receives nearly $43 million per year for media rights alone.