California: Let College Athletes Turn a Profit
California Governor Gavin Newsom has signed a bill that allows university athletes to profit from their names and images like professionals. The NCAA is threatening a lawsuit, but pro athletes like LeBron James (l.) support the measure.
Living up to its reputation as a pioneer, California’s legislature has unanimously passed and Governor Gavin Newsom has signed a law that will give university athletes the same rights that the pros have to profit from their names and images, to hire agents and to make endorsements. The NCAA is not amused and will likely take the state to court.
State Senator Nancy Skinner, the author of the bill, challenged the NCAA after the bill was signed: “What I say is: The NCAA, the ball is in your court. You now have the ability to do the right thing and give every student-athlete across the country the right to their name, image and likeness so that athletes like Ed O’Bannon never have to watch a video game and see their image in it without ever having given their permission or not being able to share a penny of that revenue.”
The law takes effect in three years, which leaves plenty of time for lawsuits and negotiations between the NCAA and the state. It does not affect community colleges. It does not allow athletes to violate schools’ existing contracts.
Being the leading edge in this movement means that California will take the brunt of the legal challenges that will almost inevitably result from its action. The NCAA Board of Governors had tried to head off the law by asking Newsom to veto the bill, claiming that the law “would erase the critical distinction between college and professional athletes.”
It added, “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.”
Setting up its logic for a legal challenge, the board also declared that Golden state universities would gain an unfair advantage in recruitment, which could lead the NCAA to not allowing them to compete in its competitions. In its letter to Newsom asking for his veto, it called the law “a scheme” and “unconstitutional.” It added, “Right now, nearly half a million student-athletes in all 50 states compete under the same rules, This bill would remove that essential element of fairness and equal treatment that forms the bedrock of college sports.”
Not allowing the Golden State’s universities to compete would be a risky move by the NCAA since California is big enough to form its own league with like-minded states. Membership in the NCAA is voluntary.
It could also spark an antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA, but nothing prevents the NCAA from filing its own lawsuit to overturn the law.
It is clearly obvious that NCAA is correct that California’s law will give the state’s biggest schools an advantage in recruiting. Tom Luginbill, ESPN’s national football recruiting director, told the Wall Street Journal, “Kids are going to go where the money is.” He added, “Yes, there are a select group of programs that can recruit solely to the development of an NFL player, but it doesn’t solve any financial problems, at least not during college.”
Several professional athletes have endorsed the law, including the NBA’s LeBron James and Draymond Green.
James, the WNBA’s Diana Taurasi, former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon and former UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi appeared with Newsom at the signing, which took place on the set of an online TV show The Shop. Newsom was a college baseball player at Santa Clara University.
James commented, “Part of the reason I went to the NBA was to get my mom out of the situation she was in. I couldn’t have done that in college with the current rules in place.” James has a 14-year-old son who is already considered a potent prospect as future college player.
Although the NCAA has resisted paying players, it does allow them to accept prize money and a committee is looking at other ways amateur players could make money. The committee is composed of conference commissioners, college presidents and athletic directors. The report is due out this month.
Newsom has asked for an advanced draft of that report, but the NCAA declined. Nevertheless, the governor struck a conciliatory tone at the signing. He told reporters, “We recognize that we need to keep an open mind about the consequences of this legislation. We want to engage in good faith the NCAA and other states, but at the end of the day, we want to address this injustice in higher education. No other student is restricted in using their name, image and likeness. Not one. Only athletes.”
The law was opposed by the University of California system, California State University schools, Stanford and USC, because they feared it would lead to them being expelled from the NCAA. Others who urged Newsom to veto the bill included university presidents and athletic boosters.
One who didn’t take that position is UCLA football coach Chip Kelly took a different position from the NCAA on Monday, who told the Los Angeles Times that the bill was “the right thing to do. It doesn’t cost the universities, it doesn’t cost the NCAA.”
Supporters of the bill argue that it will make it possible for young athletes, especially those poor backgrounds to become financially independent from the college system that allows colleges and corporations to exploit them.
The Pac-12 Conference came out against the law, issuing a statement that said it “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.”
The three-year delay for the start of the bill gives USC officials hope that it will allow for negotiations between the state and the NCAA to prevent “unintended consequences.” The school said in a statement, “We agree it is crucial to have a serious conversation on the appropriate manner in which student-athletes can license their name, image and likeness for commercial gain.” It added, “We also continue to believe strongly that a national framework is needed to address those issues to ensure our student-athletes are treated fairly and do not face a potential ban from NCAA competition.”
Several states are looking at similar laws. In New York a state senator has proposed a law that kicks it up a notch by requiring colleges to pay their athletes, something California’s law does not address. A similar bill has been introduced in Colorado. In South Carolina a bill like California’s will be filed early next year.
The author of the latter bill, Senator Marlon Kimpson told the Wall Street Journal: “This will be a building block that we can use in the state of South Carolina to make our case.”