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Former Utah College Basketball Stars Push Back On Paying College Athletes

Jun 16, 2021, 12:40 AM | Updated: Jul 5, 2023, 2:31 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – A growing number of states have moved away from current NCAA rules and toward allowing college athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness. But two former Utah college basketball players said they don’t agree with the current trend to compensate athletes beyond a school scholarship.

“I do think that an overhaul and a change of the rules needs to take place because the current model is not working,” said Jonathan Tavernari. “But I also don’t think that throwing money and saying everybody can get paid for everything is the solution either.”

Tavernari, also known as J.T., played basketball for BYU from 2006 to 2010 before playing professionally. He would occasionally return to his home country of Brazil during his college years to play for the national team.

“I was playing with big-time European stars, playing in the Euro League, and I was the only college kid that was playing in it and I was never getting paid,” he said.

The NCAA has long stood by treating college athletes as amateurs. Current rules say they can’t get paid for their name, image or likeness.

Schools profiting off athletes without any money going to players has been part of a debate for years. But Josh Grant, who played basketball for the University of Utah from 1988 to 1993 before playing in the NBA, said the issue has been with the organization.

“It all boils down to the NCAA,” he said. “If the NCAA really wanted to fix this 10 to 15 years ago, they shouldn’t have been putting in these ridiculous rules that you can’t work, that you can get a job. I mean, I had teammates that couldn’t afford to take their girlfriend to get an ice cream cone because how are they going to get the money to do it? They couldn’t even buy a car.”

Grant pointed out that while he did not get paid by businesses, he did receive pay for his education, housing and meals. He doesn’t think allowing college students access to more money is the solution.

“Now they’re just creating more ways to create a bigger gap between the have’s and the have nots,” Grant said. “Are you going to hire agents for these kids? Are they going to walk around with their entourage behind them as they go to class? It just is opening up so many problems that, to me, it’s ridiculous.”

The years-long debate surrounding compensation for collegiate athletes took a turn in 2019 when California signed into law a bill that would allow payment to athletes from outside parties. Since then, the Washington Post reports 19 states have signed similar bills, Texas being the most recent. The laws allow players to get money from endorsements, sponsorships, social media posts and more. The Post reports the laws in six of those states will go into effect July 1.

“I could have always just gone and gotten a six figure, or whatever the case may be, job in Europe and go play,” Tavernari said. “But to me, I stayed in college to get an education.”

The growing number of states supporting payments to athletes puts pressure on other states to join the club in order to compete for college athletes. But the Post reports the NCAA plans to meet before July to discuss the issue, and it’s possible they could change the rules to allow outside parties to pay athletes across the board so no school is left out. They are also putting pressure on Congress to act.

“Would I have wanted to live during this time and get paid? Obviously, you want to make money, but I wouldn’t change my college experience for anything,” Tavernari said. “Coming over here to play a sport, to me, was a blessing and a gift that I had to earn by getting good grades in school, because if you don’t have the grades, you can’t play.”

Instead of allowing direct payment to athletes, he said the NCAA and lawmakers should explore other ways to change the current model.

“I’m a firm believer that a fund should be set aside, that once they graduate from college, then they can tap on that fund,” said Tavernari.

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Former Utah College Basketball Stars Push Back On Paying College Athletes