Why Garbers’ new merch matters: The fight for player compensation in the NCAA

photo of NCAA headquarters
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We live in a society where almost everything is monetized. The social media we use subconsciously primes us to consume products advertisers sell to us while our internet presence is sold off to companies tracking our every move in efforts to learn how to better market to us.

Profit seeking is everywhere, and the world of college sports is no exception.

The NCAA rakes in more than $1 billion in profits every year, yet up until July, student-athletes were not allowed to receive a single cent in revenue. The idea that a nonprofit organization benefited from the talent and dedication of thousands of college athletes without fairly compensating the players who made it money is something that lawmakers and student-athletes alike are working hard to change.

Following a long and uphill battle, the NCAA decided July 1 to reverse prohibitions on athletes being able to take advantage of their name, image and likeness. This means that NCAA athletes can now make deals with brands, profit off of their social media accounts and be compensated in other ways for their stardom.

Athletes are still not allowed to receive direct compensation from their colleges but can reap the benefits of their very own athletic talent.

But why has the NCAA been against this move for so long?

This question dates back to the invention of the National Collegiate Athletic Association in 1906 and its mission to “regulate the rules of college sports and protect young athletes.” According to the NCAA, itsa goal of protecting student-athletes included regulating what they can and can’t do with their image.

NCAA President Mark Emmert has long stressed the importance of upholding the integrity of college sports and remaining separate from professional athletics. One way the organization strove to do this was by eliminating the profit-making component of being a sports celebrity.

The idea was that if college athletes were able to make money from their abilities early on, the whole system would become corrupt with monetary pressure before the athlete was even old enough to decide if they wanted to go professional or not.

This issue contains layers of nuance, and there is no right or wrong answer on either side. What becomes fascinating about the discussion over NCAA rules is that it has become a bipartisan issue, reaching across both sides of the aisle.

Former Stanford tight end and current Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., introduced a bill in 2020 aimed at a broad variety of NCAA reform, including revenue sharing and long-term health care benefits for college athletes. The bill is co-sponsored by several other senators, and if it manages to become a law, it will be the first time in history that Congress has directly legislated on college athletics.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote a scathing opinion in June against the NCAA rules. Along with support from the Biden administration, student-athletes are gaining ground in their fight for payment.

Cal’s very own Chase Garbers has even thrown his hat into the ring. This low-level celebrity’s Instagram feed is riddled with corporate sponsorships — ranging from personalized Garbers merch to advertisements for Bay Area coffee brand Quokka Brew. The NCAA’s new ruling has made it so that a Division I quarterback with slim chances of making it to the NFL can get his cut of the profit: And why shouldn’t he?

The rules of the game are changing. Only time will tell what effects these new regulations will have on college athletics and society as a whole.

Mia Horne is the sports editor. Contact her at [email protected].