The NCAA is pushing back against a bill in the California legislature that would allow college athletes to earn money for the use of their name, image or likeness beginning in 2023. In a letter to State Assembly committees, NCAA President Mark Emmert told lawmakers that if the bill passes California schools might be prohibited from competing in NCAA championships. It will be interesting to see if the NCAA follows through with its threat, as California is home to 23 schools in Division I alone.
NCAA rules keep athletes in “amateur” box
Players on NCAA teams must maintain “amateurism certification,” meaning they cannot be both a student-athlete and a professional player. Student-athletes can accept prize money less than or equal to their competition expenses but otherwise cannot accept payment for participating.
Emmert’s letter to California legislators pointed out this contrast in rules, saying:
“[T]he bill threatens to alter materially the principles of intercollegiate athletics and create local differences that would make it impossible to host fair national championships.”
Athletes seek control of their image
The issue of compensation for the use of a college athlete’s image has continued to grow over the last several years. In 2015, a federal judge approved a $60 million settlement in favor of college athletes who sued video game maker Electronics Arts (better known as EA Sports) for using their likenesses without permission. Since then, EA Sports has ceased making any NCAA video games.
The NCAA’s position on the proposed law in California is worrisome for many, and rightfully so. However, some have pointed out that attempts by the NCAA to enforce a ban on California teams might violate federal antitrust law. Going forward, student-athletes may be in a better position to control how their images and likenesses are used – and perhaps even cover more than just their expenses.