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Split Decision: Two Top College Basketball Coaches Differ on ‘Fair Pay for Play’

Two of college basketball’s top coaches appear to be rivals on the court—and off when it comes to paying college athletes.

On Tuesday, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said he supports California’s “Fair Pay for Pay,” law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, while Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said a day earlier that Newsom should “stay in his lane.”

Their comments come more than a week after the law, which takes effect in 2023, but has already generated its fair share of praise and scrutiny on whether it will save college athletics or kill it. The law will allow college athletes in California to get paid for the use of their name, image, and likeness. Under the new law, California schools will not pay athletes, but they will be allowed to hire agents and seek out business deals. 

The hall of famer and five-time NCAA Champion, Krzyzewski, known affectionately as “Coach K,” said in a prepared statement issued at the Atlantic Coast Conference’s (ACC) 2019 Operation Basketball preseason event on Tuesday that the “Fair Play” law will likely lead to “far-reaching change.”

He also admitted that he doesn’t “pretend to understand all of 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. “We need to stay current with what’s happening. I’m glad [the Fair Pay to Play Act] was passed because it pushes the envelope, it pushes the issue.”

Meanwhile, Few, who has coached at Gonzaga for 20 seasons, and led the Bulldogs to the Final Four in 2017, has a different take on Fair Pay, describing it as an “incredibly complex issue, it’s like healthcare in America.”

On Monday, Few had choice words for Newsom, suggesting that the governor should focus more on some of California’s more pressing issues and let those in college athletics figure out its own issues.

“What I find totally disappointing and disgusting is that a governor is wasting his time grandstanding around in something that he doesn’t really understand when .00001 percent of his constituents are going to be impacted by this” Few said during an interview with Stadium’s Mark Goodman.

“He should probably stay in his lane—like I tell my players—and figure out homelessness,” said Few about Newsom. “I think he’s got a state that borders Mexico, and get that mess figured out, and the budget and some things like that….”

Few took a similar stance compared to Washington State football coach Mike Leach who said last month that “Fair Pay” would lead to a huge recruiting imbalance and “destroy college football.”

“The state of California has trouble keeping its streets clean right now. So, my thought is they ought to focus on that. That’s just one man’s opinion. I’m sure I’m probably wrong,” Leach said. “But at the rate California’s handling their infrastructure and some other problems, I think we’ll see how they do with that before I really think it would be that beneficial for the legislature in California to enter into college football.”

But Louisville basketball coach Chris Mack told reporters attending the ACC basketball event Tuesday that he has a different take than he did a few years ago.

He believes the landscape has changed significantly.

“The money, the TV contracts, every conference has its own network now. I don’t know what it looks like. I’m not an economist. And I think the NCAA has gotten a bad rap for not doing anything for student-athletes,” he said. “But I am on the side that thinks student-athletes should be able to capitalize on their name, image, and likeness.

“I just hope that whatever happens isn’t ramrodded down the NCAA’s throat,” he concluded.

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