California governor signs bill that will allow NCAA athletes to be paid for their likeness

NCAA President Mark Emmert answers questions at a news conference at the Final Four on April 4 in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Matt York)
NCAA President Mark Emmert answers questions at a news conference at the Final Four on April 4 in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Matt York)

In a major blow to the NCAA’s model of amateurism, the California bill that will allow college athletes to profit from their own name, image and likeness was signed into law Monday morning by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The new law, which is backed by superstar athletes like LeBron James and staunchly opposed by the NCAA and collegiate athletic administrators across the country, will give NCAA athletes the opportunity to pursue endorsement deals once it goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2023.

The NCAA has long used its tax-exempt status and the concept of “amateurism” to defend its rules that prohibit college athletes from being compensated in any way beyond their scholarships and cost-of-attendance. But once the law comes to fruition, college athletes in California will essentially be afforded the same endorsement opportunities provided to Olympic athletes. Money would not be coming from universities, but the law would allow athletes to hire an agent and pursue outside business deals without jeopardizing their eligibility. Athletes would also own the rights to use their names and images.

“Senate Bill 206 addresses an injustice in our higher education system,” Newsom wrote to the California State Senate announcing his decision to sign the bill into law. “Other college students with a talent, whether it be literature, music or technological innovation, can monetize their skill and hard work. Student-athletes, however, are prohibited from being compensated while their respective colleges and universities make millions, often at great risk to athletes’ health, academics and professional careers.

“Moreover, due to their demanding academic and athletic schedules, student-athletes are typically unable to work a part-time job to help make ends meet. This bill simply and rightfully allows student-athletes to benefit from the multi-billion dollar enterprise of which they are the backbone.”

NCAA vehemently opposes this bill

In an interview with the New York Times, Newsom said that the law was a “big move to expose the farce and to challenge a system that is outsized in its capacity to push back.”

“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,” Newsom told The New York Times. “The only group that can’t are athletes. Why is that?”

Since the bill was in its infancy, the NCAA has been strongly against it. Back in June, NCAA president Mark Emmert sent a letter to California lawmakers implying that universities in the state could be barred from NCAA championships if the bill was entered into state law. Earlier this month, the NCAA said the bill is “unconstitutional” and would blur the line between professional and amateur athletics.

“If the bill becomes law and California’s 58 NCAA schools are compelled to allow an unrestricted name, image and likeness scheme, it would erase the critical distinction between college and professional athletics and, because it gives those schools an unfair recruiting advantage, would result in them eventually being unable to compete in NCAA competitions,” the NCAA said Sept. 11.

Back in May, the NCAA formed a working group to “examine issues related to student-athlete name, image and likeness.” The NCAA hoped California would delay consideration for the bill until NCAA officials discussed the issue. A final report from the working group is due to the NCAA Board of Directors in October.

Newsom, in his letter to the State Senate, said he is looking forward to “reviewing the recommendations” of the NCAA working group. The commencement date of Jan. 1, 2023 was chosen deliberately to make adjustments that would address any “unintended consequences” that could arise.

“SB 206 provides a three-year implementation window. If unintended consequences arise that negatively impact our colleges and universities, or our student-athletes, my administration will work constructively with the Legislature to address these issues,” Newsom wrote. “Ultimately, this is a fundamental matter of fairness and equity that is well past due.”

After the bill was signed on Monday morning, the NCAA released a statement saying that any changes made to its model should be done “on a national level.” Below is the NCAA’s full statement.

As a membership organization, the NCAA agrees changes are needed to continue to support student-athletes, but improvement needs to happen on a national level through the NCAA’s rules-making process. Unfortunately, this new law already is creating confusion for current and future student-athletes, coaches, administrators and campuses, and not just in California.

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.

As more states consider their own specific legislation related to this topic, it is clear that a patchwork of different laws from different states will make unattainable the goal of providing a fair and level playing field for 1,100 campuses and nearly half a million student-athletes nationwide.

Pac-12: Bill will have ‘significant negative consequences’

Like the NCAA, the Pac-12 is against this bill. In a statement, the conference said it will “have very significant negative consequences” for the conference’s student-athletes and “will lead to the professionalization of college sports.”

Below is the conference’s statement in its entirety:

The Pac-12 is disappointed in the passage of SB 206 and believes it will have very significant negative consequences for our student-athletes and broader universities in California. This legislation will lead to the professionalization of college sports and many unintended consequences related to this professionalism, imposes a state law that conflicts with national rules, will blur the lines for how California universities recruit student-athletes and compete nationally, and will likely reduce resources and opportunities for student-athletes in Olympic sports and have a negative disparate impact on female student-athletes.

Our universities have led important student-athlete reform over the past years, but firmly believe all reforms must treat our student-athletes as students pursuing an education, and not as professional athletes. We will work with our universities to determine next steps and ensure continuing support for our student-athletes.

Newsom: We had to force NCAA’s hand

Newsom told the Times that state officials felt the need to force the NCAA’s hand on the issue.

“They’re not going to do the right thing on their own. They only do the right thing when they’re sued or they’re forced to do the right thing,” Newsom said.

In recent months, legislators in other states, including South Carolina, New York and Florida, have spoken out in support of the California bill and voiced interest in pursuing similar legislation in their own states.

Meanwhile, athletic administrators across the country are feeling uneasy. TCU athletic director Jeremiah Donati told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that the bill “worries” him “a lot” and that it could “potentially destroy everything we know and love about college sports.” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said last week, before the bill was signed into law, that California schools “won’t be members of the NCAA” if the bill passed. Smith also said Ohio State would not schedule games against any teams from California.

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