Capitol Alert

California becomes first state to allow college athletes to be paid

Rejecting opposition from the NCAA, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday announced he signed a law allowing college athletes to be paid starting in 2023.

The law will allow players to be compensated for their name, image and likeness. Senate Bill 206, dubbed the “Fair Pay to Play Act,” would also prohibit universities across the state from revoking scholarships from students who choose to pursue endorsement deals and other opportunities.

“The system has been perverted and this is fundamentally about rebalancing things,” Newsom said during a media conference call on Monday. “It’s about fairness, equity, and it’s about time.”

Newsom was filmed signing the bill on HBO’s UNINTERRUPTED The Shop with NBA superstar LeBron James on Friday. Newsom and James posted a video clip from the show on Twitter early Monday.

“This is a game changer for student athletes and for equity in sports,” James said on the show, according to the governor’s office. “Athletes at every level deserve to be empowered and to be fairly compensated for their work, especially in a system where so many are profiting off of their talents.

The NCAA, which governs college sports, was unsuccessful in its efforts to stop the bill within the Legislature or get Newsom to veto it, setting the stage for a potential legal challenge.

Shortly after the bill cleared the Assembly with unanimous support earlier this month, the organization told Newsom in a letter that the law would give the state’s 58 NCAA schools an “unfair recruiting advantage.”

As a result, the NCAA Board of Governors threatened to ban those schools from playing in NCAA competitions. The announcement came in addition to their prior threats to revoke California’s ability to host future championships.

“We urge the state of California to reconsider this harmful and, we believe, unconstitutional bill and hope the state will be a constructive partner in our efforts to develop a fair name, image and likeness approach for all 50 states,” they wrote.

On Monday, the NCAA vowed to explore “next steps” to continue challenging the law.

Newsom said the language of the bill was carefully crafted to avoid a lawsuit. He also said the NCAA can’t afford to follow through on its threats because California “is truly a nation-state and the economic consequences will be profound.”

Newsom played college baseball on a partial scholarship at Santa Clara University and his wife, Jennifer, played soccer at Stanford.

The governor said he wouldn’t have been able to go to that school without the scholarship opportunity. While he acknowledged the NCAA opens up educational opportunities for people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to go to college, he called the notion of a student-athlete a “farce” legal term. He noted public opinion is on his side.

“It’s not a legal problem,” Newsom said. “It’s a public opinion problem. The public is way ahead of them.”

State Sens. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley and Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, wrote the bill. Skinner told The Bee earlier in the day the state is in “pretty good shape” if the NCAA decides to sue.

But some athletic organizations worry about the precedent the new law could set. In a statement, the Pac-12 said it is “disappointed” by the news and believes the law “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.”

Skinner has long blasted the NCAA and accused it of not seriously considering the subject of athlete pay. In May, the NCAA formed a working group to examine name, image and likeness benefits. In the announcement, the NCAA said a final report would be due to the Board of Governors in October, with an update provided in August. That update has yet to be publicly released.

“Their press release said they would have an initial report out in August,” Skinner told The Bee earlier this month. “August is over. No one has seen anything from the NCAA. SB 206 is necessary. The NCAA has not really demonstrated good faith.”

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Bryan Anderson is a political reporter for The Bee. He covers the California Legislature and reports on wildfires and transportation. He also hosts The Bee’s “California Nation” podcast.
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