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California assembly passes measure allowing colleges athletes to earn income

The money surrounding college sports is enormous, with college football and basketball being billion-dollar industries. Unlike professional sports where athletes are handsomely paid for their services, the governing body of the NCAA strictly forbids athletes from seeking sponsorships, endorsements and otherwise profiting from the use of their image and likeness. In other words, everyone is making a ton of money except the athletes.

Fair Pay to Play Act

California State Senators Nancy Skinner and Steven Bradford drafted the Fair Pay to Play Act, which recently unanimously passed the California State Assembly by a vote of 72-0. Supporters included free-market proponents and civil rights advocates. A similar bill has already passed the State Senate. The two chambers will then work out the differences in the bill, here considered a formality, and measure SB 206 will be sent to Governor Gavin Newsom, who has 30 days to sign it. If signed, it would go into effect on January 1, 2023.

NCAA cries foul

This would affect many prominent programs in the state’s university system, as well as private institutions like Stanford and the University of Southern California (USC). Despite major pro athletes like Lebron James coming out in favor of the measure, calling it a “GAME CHANGER,” the NCAA is not going to let go of its honey pot without a fight.

Currently, college athletes are limited to:

  • Cost of attendance stipends
  • Scholarships
  • Relaxed rules on transferring
  • Coverage of mental health treatment
  • Meals

Many of these benefits were only “granted” after court fights, while the NCAA removed a meals limitation after a Connecticut basketball player said during the 2014 Final Four tournament that he often went to bed hungry.

NCAA says it opens a can of worms

In a desperate attempt to derail the California legislation, the NCAA sent a letter to politicians stating that the California programs would no longer be eligible for NCAA championships because they would have an unfair recruiting advantage. Rather than just football and basketball, this ban would affect entire programs, including sports like softball, volleyball and crew.

The NCAA also voiced concern about the types of businesses that would sponsor athletes, particularly if they sell a banned substance like cannabinoids or are in the gambling industry. There is also the matter of international students playing in the US on a visa that restricts off-campus employment.

A movement is afoot

Senator Skinner sees the California bill as the beginning of a movement and expects other states to follow suit – the state legislatures in Washington, Colorado and North Carolina have all introduced bills that would conflict with the current NCAA restrictions. As in California, the issue is getting bipartisan support, which significantly increases the likelihood of measures passing. This combination of a civil rights issue and exploitation of students (many of whom are lower-class minorities) makes for a compelling argument. Should a number of states enact legislation similar to California’s, the NCAA will almost certainly have to face the reality that its current restrictions on the players who are the foundation of its lucrative business model will have to be dramatically altered.

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