Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

How Sacramento Bill to Allow Paid College Athletes Could Backfire on California

Should California pass a law and try to dictate a new policy to the rest of the country?

Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted a video of himself signing a bill into law on an episode of HBO's "The Shop: Uninterrupted." He was seated in a barber's chair next to NBA superstar LeBron James, chatting with a group of star college athletes about how many college presidents called him and urged him to veto the bill. They all laughed at that.

The new law is Senate Bill 206, the Fair Pay to Play Act. It requires California universities and colleges, beginning in 2023, to allow student athletes to hire sports agents and receive financial compensation for the use of their name, image or likeness.

That violates the agreements that the schools have with the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which bars student athletes from being paid.

On September 11, the NCAA sent a letter to Newsom charging that SB206 would upend the level playing field in college sports by giving California schools "an unfair recruiting advantage," which "would result in them eventually being unable to compete in NCAA competitions."

But the NCAA's threat to ban California schools from national competitions wasn't credible to Newsom.

"I don't see them doing that," he told reporters. "They can't afford to do that. They can't afford to lose the state of California." The governor asserted, "This is a national state, California. This is not a small, isolated state. This is a game changer."

There are 1,100 schools in the NCAA and only 58 of them are in California, so we'll see.

Without any doubt, something needs to change in college sports. The NCAA had more than $1 billion in revenue in 2017, and that's only the beginning. From schools to TV networks to casinos to companies that make athletic gear, people are making mega-money off college athletics, while the athletes themselves get only scholarships and injuries.

The question is whether California is right to pass a law and try to dictate a new policy to the rest of the country.

Newsom said New York, South Carolina, Washington and Colorado will likely follow California's lead, but the NCAA warned that "a patchwork of different laws from different states" will make it impossible to have a "fair and level playing field for 1,100 campuses and nearly half a million student athletes nationwide."

There could be federal legislation, which would solve the patchwork problem. One proposed bill from Rep. Matt Walker, R-North Carolina, would strip the NCAA's tax-exempt status if it doesn't allow players the right to profit from the use of their name, image and likeness.

In May, the NCAA formed a working group to examine that issue. The board of the NCAA says the group will not consider any type of payment for participation in college sports, but a change in the rules involving publicity rights could be recommended in the group's report, which is due out this month.

California didn't have to pass a law in order to throw its weight around in this argument and lead the fight for amateur athletes to control and profit from their publicity rights. Unfortunately, the state is so drunk on its own publicity that "This is a national state" has become its mantra in everything from auto emissions standards to immigration policy, and now to the right to endorse shoes.

You're paying the bill for this pseudo-secession in legal costs. California now has 60 lawsuits against the federal government, and just wait until the NCAA and the state's universities and colleges start suing each other. We may have to import lawyers to handle the workload.

The NCAA does have a point when it expresses concern about the new law's effect on competition. Star athletes add to the excitement of the games, but if the competition itself isn't exciting, then the sport will gradually decline in popularity and everybody loses.

So the NCAA might very well ban California schools from national competitions.

We'll have to wait to see if California's declaration of independence ends up hurting the very student athletes that it's trying to protect. The issue is complicated, and it isn't made easier when one state declares that it is a law unto itself.


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