Coach John Cook speaks out on California student-athlete compensation bill

University of Nebraska volleyball Head Coach, John Cook, answers questions from the media on Monday, Sept. 23, 2019, at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Student-athlete compensation has long been a hot debate in college athletics, and the issue has picked up steam in recent years. Many schools have gotten in trouble for paying athletes but now, an entire state has made it legal for its schools to let student athletes make money off their likeness.

“It’s going to initiate dozens of other states to introduce similar legislation,” California governor Gavin Newsome said on an episode of Uninterrupted’s “The Shop.” “It’s going to change college sports for the better by finally having the interests of the student athletes.”

The state of California passed a new bill Monday that allows college student athletes to make money off their own image. The change is expected to begin in 2023. The new bill seems to be a trailblazer as other states such as New York and South Carolina have proposed similar bills.

Despite the new, revolutionary bill, California enters uncharted waters where all schools in the state could be kicked out of the NCAA. There are still four years to solve the issues California and the NCAA are going to have, but for now, more questions arise.

Different schools have different sports that are king of the campus, and there are sports that are only popular at certain schools. While Duke and Kentucky are great examples of basketball being bigger than football, that isn’t the case at Nebraska. 

Football is obviously number one in Lincoln, but volleyball has been the second-most popular sport. The bill was most likely passed for football and men’s basketball players, as they are the two perceived biggest sports in college athletics.

“I think that nobody worries about women’s sports on this; it’s all about the men’s,” head NU volleyball coach John Cook said. “It’s going to create chaos and … it’s going to open a can of worms.”

Volleyball is growing but is still second fiddle to football and basketball in most schools. Many questions arise from this bill, but one is the compensation of female versus male athletes. The bill’s focus is on football and men’s basketball players, not the rest of college sports.

Nebraska volleyball is a unique case, as most athletic departments around the country are focused on upholding their football or basketball program first. Volleyball’s parity is expanding, with Baylor being ranked No. 1 for the first time ever, but how do smaller programs grow now when endorsements and deals are only possible for the big programs?

“It’s gonna be really hard to police, and we’ll probably have to triple our compliance office,” Cook said.

For recruiting as it is now, one aspect is to entice a recruit to come to a university to study there. Now recruiting’s focus can change from the university’s merits to primarily where a recruit can be best compensated for their work. Yet, there is no law in the legislation addressing whether coaches can offer endorsements or sponsorships to future student athletes during the recruiting process.

If the law changes the NCAA stance, Nebraska volleyball could have an advantage in recruiting, despite the law being that every college athlete at every school can profit off their own image. That advantage is how big the Nebraska volleyball program is, as former Huskers have been compensated much better once they leave compared to other programs.  

“When they graduate from here, all the opportunities they have, they get paid to go do appearances, sign, show up at camps,” Cook said. “It’s a pretty nice deal for them so that would probably just expand like crazy.”

With the law in place, those ways of profiting would be allowed during a student athlete’s stay at his or her university. Another interesting part of the bill is that there is no mention of what boosters can and cannot do. This means that boosters and donors could hold more power than ever over athletic departments across the country.

Boosters fund almost every part of college athletics and are partly why many college sports dominate at specific schools. With no mention of recruiting in the bill, a handshake deal can be made if a prospect were to come to a school. This new business side completely changes the focus of college athletics.

These next four years will be crucial for the future of the NCAA. It is going to either cave into the new rules, ban states that have laws like California or end up creating even more conference realignment. No matter the direction, the NCAA and college athletics as a whole face a complicated road ahead.