It was a rare unanimous vote in these highly partisan times. The California legislature just passed Senate Bill 206, forbidding the National College Athletic Association from penalizing athletes for being compensated for use of their name or likeness, or for hiring agents to help promote their reputations. NCAA rules forbid athletes from doing both, and from being paid for their work other than with a scholarship, a limited stipend, and food. Governor Gavin Newsom, a former college baseball player and also a former college regent, signed the bill, which is named the Fair Pay to Play Act into law.
That's put California on a collision course with the NCAA, and possibly some of the state's colleges, which stand to lose millions according to an analysis by the California State Assembly. In a letter to Newsom before he signed the law, the NCAA argued that SB 206 would give California colleges an unfair recruiting advantage which "would result in them eventually being unable to compete in NCAA competitions." But Newsom dismissed that threat, predicting that the NCAA. would not choose to shut the state's 58 colleges out of its competition, nor itself out of the lucrative California media market.
And the law has some very high-profile supporters, including presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang--and NBA star LeBron James. In fact, Newsom signed the Act on James' HBO show The Shop.
Though some Twitter users responded to James with concerns that the move would lead to higher ticket prices and/or tuition--and that a high-priced college education should be compensation enough for student athletes--many Americans and political leaders have long noted that it's fundamentally unfair to forbid the athletes at the core of a $14 billion industry from profiting from it. Though some may go on to become NBA, NFL, or MLB stars, the vast majority won't be professional athletes and thus, under the NCAA rules, must give up the only chance they'll ever have to earn money from their athletic prowess. This is especially true for female athletes, since there is little market as yet for professional women's sports. Besides, as Newsom told The New York Times, "Every single student in the university can market their name, image, and likeness; they can go and get a YouTube channel, and they can monetize that. The only group that can't are athletes."
The law is set to take effect in 2023, a date deliberately set far in the future because the law faces anticipated legal challenges from the NCAA and possibly some of its member colleges as well. In a statement, the NCAA implied that a lawsuit was forthcoming, but also acknowledged that its rules need to change: "We will consider next steps in California while our members move forward with ongoing efforts to make adjustments to NCAA name, image, and likeness rules that are both realistic in modern society and tied to higher education." Critics, including Newsom, say the NCAA is only considering updating its rules because of pressure from state legislatures such as California's.
If so, that pressure isn't letting up anytime soon. South Carolina legislators recently said they would introduce a similar bill. And a New York State senator has already introduced one in the New York Senate. The only difference is the New York law would go one step further. It would require colleges to pay student athlete 15 percent of the proceeds from ticket sales.