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ACC: Capel, Krzyzewski, Swofford Weigh in on California’s ‘Fair Pay to Play Act’

Pitt head men's basketball coach Jeff Capel answers questions at ACC Media Day on Oct. 8, 2019 in Charlotte, N.C. (Mitchell Northam / Pittsburgh Sports Now)

ACC: Capel, Krzyzewski, Swofford Weigh in on California’s ‘Fair Pay to Play Act’

CHARLOTTE – If you’re an ACC basketball fan and a hip-hop fan, chances are you’ve seen that photo of Tupac wearing a Duke Blue Devils’ No. 5 jersey on an MTV News segment in 1995.

The name of the back of that jersey was Jeff Capel’s. And while the second-year Pitt head coach thought that moment was cool, he didn’t quite feel the same way when he’d walk into the Duke University bookstore and see his jersey being sold for a number that was – as a student – very much out of his price range.

“When I was a player, from the second part of my sophomore year until I graduated, my jersey was sold. I thought there was something odd about that,” Capel said. “That I could go to the bookstore and I could see it there and I think it was for about $75, and if I wanted to get one for my younger brother or for my cousin, I had to pay for it. If Duke gave it to me, then I was in violation, where I wouldn’t be able to play. I always found something odd about that.”

At the ACC’s Operation Basketball event on Tuesday at the Marriott City Center in Charlotte, the proposition of paying players for their likeness was a hot topic, due to a new law signed in California that could drastically change the NCAA’s system.

The act, signed Sept. 30, will allow college athletes in the state of California to get paid for their name, image and likeness through endorsement deals, sponsorships, signings and other similar opportunities. The law also prohibits the NCAA from punishing athletes who profit off of this type of income. It will go into effect Jan. 1, 2023.

Since the introduction of the act, some in college sports have felt the need to take a hard stance one way or the other. Capel, who played at Duke for four years and has been a head or assistant college basketball coach since 2000, didn’t do that on Tuesday. Instead, he acknowledged the complexity of the law and conceded that a change is needed to the NCAA’s current structure of how players are compensated.

“I think it’s very complex. I think the people that say it’s not – I think it’s very easy right now to just kind of go with what is popular. And what’s popular is to just come out in full support and everything like that, and if you don’t, you get killed a little bit, and I think that’s very shallow,” Capel said. “I do think people have a right to an opinion. I’m not saying their opinion is right, but I think it’s very complex. There are some parts of it that I agree with, whole heartedly.

“I don’t think anyone really knows and you don’t know how to make it work. Should there be change? Yes, there should be change, but how? I think there are people that are very smart and very intelligent that can get together and do that.”

Capel said that, in his opinion, real change started to come after the 2014 Final Four, where UConn guard Shabazz Napier talked about not having enough money to eat. Unlimited meals for student-athletes were approved by the NCAA just days after Napier spoke out.

“Steps were made,” Capel said. “Was it all right? No, not everything is right. You need to look further into that.”

Added Capel: “I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer right now. I think we need to take some time to figure out what’s the best for college basketball. With all of that, I really hope we don’t lose or devalue education. Because it’s something that’s still very important, and it’s something that I believe in and I’ve always believed in it, and that is the collegiate model. So whatever that means, however we do it, I’m also pro-player too. That’s why it’s complex.”

Other important voices in the ACC weighed in on the new law too. Commissioner John Swofford called the issue itself “tough” and “complicated” and said the California law was “extreme.”

Swofford added that he doesn’t think the law will be the end of college athletics, and said that he doesn’t think individual state laws are the answer to the issues surrounding athlete compensation, calling state laws a “slippery slope to professionalism.”

“I’m hopeful that as the NCAA working group comes together, there can be more focus on specific concepts and how this might work in a collegiate and educational environment to the benefit of our athletes,” Swofford said. “I think we have to be really careful about unintended consequences that can come with it. I don’t think we can look at it in a pure silo of a couple of sports. I think we have to look at the whole picture and the impact on Olympic sports, women’s sports.

“I do believe in maximizing and modernizing the athlete experience for the students that come in and play in our programs. I just can’t define exactly what I think that means right now. But I think we need to find out. We may find out there’s nothing in this that truly works for an amateur collegiate model. I don’t know. But I think we really do need to take a look at it.”

Other states, including South Carolina, Colorado, Washington, Florida, Illinois and New York are considering or expecting to introduce similar legislation.

While Capel and Swofford didn’t go hard into one direction on the issue, Capel’s mentor Mike Krzyzewski seemed to think that the California law is a good thing.

“I don’t – and won’t – pretend to understand all the complexities of such a change. However, it is a sign of the times that we in college athletics must continually adapt, albeit in a sensible manner,” Krzyzewski said in a prepared statement. “We need to stay current with what’s happening. I’m glad it was passed because it pushes the envelope, it pushes the issue.

“While we have made significant progress in recent years, we have not always responded to the needs and rights of our players swiftly, and frankly, we’re playing catch-up after years of stagnant rules. I hope and trust that not only will there be a plan to put the student-athlete’s best interests at the forefront, but that we’ll also have a firm plan for implementation at the national level.”

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