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What Ty Detmer and other BYU greats think of the California law on paying college athletes (hint: they don’t all agree)

The Heisman Trophy winner is skeptical, saying it will ‘open a can of worms,’ but others such as Bryan Kehl, Reno Mahe, Brady Poppinga and Cody Hoffman say it is long overdue

SHARE What Ty Detmer and other BYU greats think of the California law on paying college athletes (hint: they don’t all agree)
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FILE: Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Cody Hoffman (2) slips out of the reach of Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets cornerback D.J. White (28) during a game at LaVell Edwards Stadium on Saturday, October 12, 2013.

Matt Gade, Deseret News

PROVO — Occasionally, Cody Hoffman would dream a little, or try to do the math in his head.

BYU’s all-time leading receiver would walk through the school bookstore in 2013 and 2014 and see all the BYU football jerseys with No. 2 on the back, some fetching $80 or more. Even though everybody on campus knew Hoffman was No. 2, his name wasn’t on the jersey.

“And no extra cash in my pocket, either,” Hoffman said ruefully on Thursday. “I didn’t get a dime from any of that.”

And neither did basketball star Jimmer Fredette a few years earlier, when No. 32 jerseys were all the rage and Jimmermania swept through Provo and then the country. About that same time, Fredette was spotted skateboarding to his apartment in the dead of winter in Provo and was asked why.

“Because I can’t afford to get my car fixed,” he said, turning down a ride offer from a reporter because he thought it could be considered a violation of the NCAA’s impermissible benefits rules.

Maybe Hoffman, Fredette and scores of other college athletes whose schools used their images and likenesses to pad their own athletic department coffers were born too late.

Monday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 206, a law called the Fair Pay to Play Act that will allow scholarship student-athletes at California colleges to receive compensation for the use of their name, image and likeness beginning in 2023.

Currently, NCAA rules prohibit such monetizing by athletes receiving financial aid stipends and scholarships. Legislators in states such as Florida, New York, Pennsylvania and Colorado are proposing similar bills, and some members of Congress are looking at introducing federal bills for the entire country.

The NCAA has spoken out against the California bill, terming it “harmful” to the notion of amateurism and even unconstitutional, and most college athletic administrators and coaches have said they are against governments meddling in their affairs, including Gonzaga basketball coach Mark Few and Washington State football coach Mike Leach.

However, most current and former college athletes and professional athletes are in favor of it, most notably basketball great LeBron James. Former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow has emerged as the voice of the opposition.

Former BYU football greats respond

Thursday, the Deseret News polled five former BYU football greats — Hoffman, linebacker Bryan Kehl, linebacker Brady Poppinga, receiver Reno Mahe and quarterback Ty Detmer — and found that four of the five believe California lawmakers are on to something and it will be a great benefit to student-athletes. Generally, the younger the former player polled, the more in favor he was of the bill.

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Ty Detmer walks the sidelines during warms up prior to the game with the Boise State Broncos in Provo on Friday, Oct. 6, 2017.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Detmer, who played from 1987 to 1991 and won the Heisman Trophy in 1990, expressed the most reservations.

“Man, it is going to open a can of worms, because it changes everything,” Detmer said. “I don’t like it the way it is written now because it brings a whole handful of problems and questions that will need to be addressed. It could easily go in the wrong direction and bring even more professionalism to college sports, and I don’t think people want that.”

Detmer quickly added that he does believe student-athletes who bring revenue to a school should receive more compensation than they are currently getting, more insurance and health care for lingering injuries, and perhaps an annuity they can tap into if they get their degree.

“But I think a free-for-all — everybody going out and doing whatever they want marketing themselves and all that is not the answer,” he said. “It sounds good from the outside — yeah, everybody should be able to make money off their name, likeness and all those things. But when you dig into it, who is going to regulate it? And how is it going to work? There are more questions than answers, in my mind.”

On the flip side, Detmer allowed, something needs to be done to share the wealth.

“I don’t know how many of my No. 14 jerseys were sold when I was playing,” he said. “But I can imagine the school made quite a bit of money from selling them, marketing them. They made posters and everybody I talk to had my poster on their wall.

I never got a dime of that, but I got the opportunity to go to school and play for BYU and got an education that was worth a lot of money to the average person, too. I’ve got no complaints.”

Poppinga wants more progress

When he played for the Cougars from 2001 to 2004, Poppinga says plenty of athletes would work in the summer selling products and services such as pest control and alarm systems door-to-door, taking advantage of their high profiles in the community as BYU athletes. In essence, they were profiting off their celebrity status.

“Nobody had a problem with that, because it was not high volume,” he said. “But now all of a sudden you have this high-volume earning potential, and the NCAA wants to hold back and say, ‘there’s too much money going to these guys, and it isn’t fair.’”

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BYU’s Brady Poppinga wraps up UNLV’s Q.B. Kurt Nantkes for a sack Oct. 8, 2004.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

Poppinga, who played in the NFL for the Packers, Rams and Cowboys from 2005 to 2012, said college athletes should be able to take advantage of the “free-market system” available to their peers on campus.

“It is already a can of worms. That’s already happening. There are already big-time universities that pay to get recruits into their doors. It is very common knowledge. There is a term called ‘six-figure recruit,’ which means when a high school coach tells you that, you have to bring money to the table” to have a chance at landing the prospect.

“So, if you want to eliminate corruption, paying players isn’t going to eliminate corruption,” Poppinga continued. “It is already there. It is constant. It is like air. You breathe it. It is always going to be there. It is humanity. Corruption is in every system, and it is a choice to be made morally within that system.”

Kehl: Let capitalism work

Kehl, who played for BYU in 2002 and then 2005 to 2007 before several stints in the NFL with the Giants, Redskins, Rams and Chiefs, said he can’t think of a single valid argument against allowing college athletes to monetize their names and likenesses.

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Bryan Kehl and the rest of the BYU football team work out at BYU March 29, 2007.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

“I know that kids have been getting paid under the table for decades,” he said. “So you may as well bring it out into the light, have everything be transparent. Personally, I am a free-market capitalist through and through, so I think if you have a skill or an expertise in a certain area, you should be compensated for that at whatever age you are.”

Kehl said there will be issues to navigate — such as apparel and shoe contracts that schools have already negotiated conflicting with an individual athlete’s desire to represent another brand paying him to do so — but “once it gets established and a sort of equilibrium takes over, it won’t be a big problem.”

What about fairness? Proponents of Title IX fear that women won’t get the same opportunities as men.

“Yeah, life is not fair,” Kehl said. “There are always going to be imbalances. And in free markets, you don’t try to manipulate those markets. As long as it is an even playing field and the rules apply to everyone, it works.”

Mahe: Beware of collateral damage

Mahe, who played for BYU in 1998 and 2001-2002, and then for five seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL, can see the other side of the argument because he’s married to a former college athlete who labored in relative anonymity on the volleyball court and probably could not have profited as much from her name and likeness, Sunny Tonga Mahe.

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BYU’s Reno Mahe breaks away from Syracuse’s Latroy Oliver and dives for a first down in the first quarter of BYU’s season opener vs. Syracuse at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo Aug. 29, 2002.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

“I have gone back and forth on this in my head, because I believe it would be a good thing for players to get paid like that if they can get it,” he said. “But I also worry about the collateral damage. This is going to create a bigger gap between athletes of revenue sports and nonrevenue sports. Good luck with that one.”

On the other hand, Mahe thinks if the law spreads across the nation, BYU will benefit.

“You wait until these BYU boosters start hiring athletes for marketing purposes for their businesses,” he said. “It will be awesome. We are going to be competing with Alabama boosters, Oklahoma boosters. It would benefit BYU so much, with its national following.”

Hoffman: Give them a helping hand

BYU players on California law

When they played for BYU


Cody Hoffman — 2011-2014

Bryan Kehl — 2002, 2005-2007

Brady Poppinga — 2001-2004

Reno Mahe — 1998, 2001-2002

Ty Detmer — 1987-1991


Despite leaving BYU as the most prolific receiver in school history, Hoffman went undrafted and never played in the NFL. Hopes that he would “get paid” once he left BYU never materialized. He played briefly for the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, but left professional football in 2017 and has been working for a commercial roofing company in Utah the past 18 months.

He would like to see student-athletes who give so much to their schools get something in return besides an education, especially when their playing days are over. A degree is nice, with no student debt, but he’s seen plenty of former players struggle financially once they leave school, degree in hand or not.

“It is not fair that schools can profit so much on players, but the players can’t get any portion of that,” he said. “I would see people walking around in my jersey, and I thought it was cool, but I would have loved to have been paid for it. You are a college student. You don’t have much money. You have the scholarship check they give you, but you can’t work. Anything they give you at that point helps.”