Governor Gavin Newsom, a democrat in California, on Monday signed the Fair Pay to Play Act into law, essentially guaranteeing that colleges in California can not penalize their athletes from collecting endorsement money and setting up a head-on collision between the NCAA and colleges in the state.
In a nod to the impact of the bill, Newsom signed the act into law at an event hosted by LeBron James’ Uninterrupted platform, where Newson explicitly said that California’s signing the bill into law would spark a number of other states to move forward with similar legislation. James has been among a group of celebrity athletes to vocally support the bill.
If Newsom’s claim that other states will follow is true, that could pose an existential challenge to the NCAA, which has steadfastly pushed back against the California legislation; NCAA president Mark Emmert himself called the Fair Pay to Play Act an “existential threat” to the NCAA model in a recent interview with CBS Sports, per ESPN. USA TODAY’s Steve Berkowitz reported Monday that legislators in South Carolina, New York and Illinois are all working on bills that track closely to California’s and could follow also move forward toward adoption soon.
The key tenet of the Fair Pay to Play Act is an athlete’s ability to make money off their own likeness, just as professional athletes do with endorsements, sponsorship pacts and other image rights. The bill does not deal with the concept of having schools compensate athletes directly, but rather outlaws any opportunity to punish athletes should they pursue compensation for their image rights.
Additionally, the bill makes it legal for an athlete to hire an agent to represent them in these image pursuits.
The combined impact of these changes has left some NCAA executives concerned that it will effectively blur the lines between collegiate and professional competition.
Michael Drake told ESPN that the NCAA wants to “evolve” and “modernize” its approach to name, image and likeness rights, but fears that California’s bill has the potential to blur an important distinction between professional leagues and amateur college sports.
“We’re not the association of the 20th century,” Drake said. “We need to make sure we have 21st century rules. We want to continue to change appropriately for the future.”
The NCAA also has concerns that can effectively be described as federalist concerns; if California schools are required to have their athletes participate under their independent state rules, then there’s nothing stopping every other state from having their athletes compete and be compensated under their independent rules. That sliding scale could create a situation where individual states proactively legislate to give their schools a beneficial opportunity to market themselves to elite athletes, undercutting the perceived fair opportunity theoretically available to all schools in traditional recruiting.
There is still time for the NCAA and California to find middle ground, though additional states moving forward with similar legislation would understandably complicate that process. The Fair Pay to Play Act is not slated to go into effect in 2023, and there is already talk that if the NCAA and California have not reached a compromise by then, the case could end up in court to determine how it can be enforced. The NCAA claims that the act is unconstitutional because it interferes with rules that protect interstate commerce.
Looking for a more immediate impact of the bill? Berkowitz has reported that until there is some sort of resolution between the NCAA and the California legislature, Ohio State AD Gene Smith plans to avoid scheduling games against opponents from California after January 1, 2023 for fear that schools there may be barred from the NCAA. Should that follow suit in other states if they also move forward with similar legislation it could create abject bedlam in future scheduling and have a direct impact on all other bilateral agreements in the college system, including NCAA conferences and similar groupings.