Earlier this month, when California passed its Fair Pay to Play Act, allowing college athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness starting in 2023, mum was the word among Michigan’s football players.

The would-be beneficiaries generally claimed ignorance. Some, like senior left tackle Jon Runyan Jr., were more forthcoming, saying they understand why some would benefit from the extra money that would come with the bill.

On Tuesday night, hours after the NCAA’s Board of Directors voted to start moving its rules towards becoming consistent with the California law, there was little ambiguity in the response.

“Everybody’s getting richer,” said senior cornerback Lavert Hill. “We need a piece of the pie, too, I guess. That’s about it.”

The NCAA’s vote shouldn’t be mistaken for actual legislation or action. The organization, which threatened to sue over the California law when it was passed, merely signaled more openness to the idea. That’s not nothing, but it’s not paying athletes.

In a statement released Tuesday, the NCAA said that rule changes could occur immediately, but with guidelines that include keeping much of the current system intact.

“I don’t really know what the NCAA is really proposing,” said fifth-year senior linebacker Jordan Glasgow. “Just saying that we’re gonna get money based off of our likeness is pretty ambiguous. Do I feel like some people need more, possibly, to sustain a good lifestyle? Probably, yeah. But it’s difficult for me to say at this moment.”

Exactly how the change will manifest is unclear to everyone involved. Even NCAA President Mark Emmert kept things ambiguous when he spoke to reporters Tuesday.

“We’re going to have to wait and see what transpires with each of these legislatures,” Emmert said. “We believe very deeply in the board … that you have to have a national system if you’re going to have national championships. Doing all these things state by state is at best ineffective and most likely makes it very difficult or impossible.”

At the same time Emmert spoke, bills similar to California’s had already begun taking shape in Washington, Colorado, Illinois and Florida. Federally, Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., proposed a bill while Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., took to Twitter on Tuesday to say he would introduce a measure to make any income gained by college athletes taxable.

A U-M spokesperson told The Daily Tuesday afternoon that athletic director Warde Manuel had no comment on the situation at the time. Men’s basketball coach Juwan Howard has pled ignorance on the issue when asked and football coach Jim Harbaugh pivoted — diverting the conversation towards allowing players to declare for the NFL Draft early. Harbaugh’s proposal was to allow players to turn professional at any point in their college careers while keeping their amateur status intact.

“That’s something I think would be fair and beneficial to everybody,” Harbaugh said on Oct. 7.

“We must embrace change to provide the best possible experience for college athletes,” said Ohio State president and NCAA Board of Directors chair Michael Drake in a press release. “Additional flexibility in this area can and must continue to support college sports as part of higher education.”

Gene Smith, Ohio State’s athletic director, said earlier this month that he opposed California’s legislation, emphasizing the need for a federal framework.

Though players may not have been aware of the specifics of the legislation, their stances became clear on Tuesday.

“The amount of time and work we put in, just how big the football industry is, how much it’s increasing, I think, yeah, give back to us a little bit,” said redshirt freshman tight end Luke Schoonmaker. “We’re the ones (playing).”

Schoonmaker also pointed to financial troubles that many players face, saying he had to look for a job over the summer for extra money. 

At the same time, the Big Ten is in the midst of a six-year TV rights deal with ESPN and Fox Sports worth $2.64 billion, while Harbaugh, the third-highest paid coach in college football, is set to make $7.5 million this season.

“I’d say food-wise, I think most of the guys, too, are always hungry,” Schoonmaker said. “And it’d just help during the week with being able to eat some more and have more money for that. And any daily needs and stuff, just could help us, week to week.”

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