California State Senate Passes 'Fair Pay to Play' Bill for College Sports

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistSeptember 11, 2019

A woman uses an umbrella as it rains at the Capitol, Thursday, May 16, 2019, in Sacramento, Calif. A late-spring storm with a winter-like potency moved through California, adding to the Sierra Nevada snowpack and rainfall accumulations that were already well above normal. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

The California State Senate unanimously passed SB 206, also known as the Fair Pay to Play Act, Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.

Gov. Gavin Newsom now has 30 days to either sign or veto the bill, which would allow student-athletes in the state to profit from the use of their names, images and likenesses.

Were Newsom to sign the bill into law, it would set up an obvious showdown with the NCAA over the organization's amateurism model.

The NCAA wrote a letter to the governor Wednesday, arguing the bill is unconstitutional and would adversely affect competitive balance throughout collegiate athletics:

"California Senate Bill 206 would upend that balance. If the bill becomes law and California's 58 NCAA schools are compelled to allow an unrestricted name, image and likeness scheme, it would erase the critical distinction between college and professional athletics and, because it gives those schools an unfair recruiting advantage, would result in them eventually being unable to compete in NCAA competitions. These outcomes are untenable and would negatively impact more than 24,000 California student-athletes across three divisions."

The NCAA also said California's 58 member schools would be unable to compete in official events, citing a potentially unfair recruiting advantage.

Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James has been among those arguing in favor of SB 206:

LeBron James @KingJames

Everyone is California- call your politicians and tell them to support SB 206! This law is a GAME CHANGER. College athletes can responsibly get paid for what they do and the billions they create.

LeBron James @KingJames

Or....because of this bill, you can work with everyone to create a national policy that is fair to the athletes. 🤷🏾‍♂️✊🏾👑https://t.co/Ey3lBzeB3v

The bill's passage Wednesday comes after the California State Assembly voted 72-0 in favor of the measure Monday. Seven assembly members declined to vote.

SB 206 would go into effect Jan. 1, 2023, if approved by the governor. In addition to earning compensation, student-athletes would be allowed to hire agents while they're in college and maintain athletic eligibility.

The NCAA formed a working group of administrators in May to examine how it might be able to open the door for student-athletes to earn money from their names, images and likenesses.

Michael Drake, the president of Ohio State and chair of the NCAA's Board of Governors, told ESPN's Dan Murphy that the group is "working actively to look at ways to modernize its approach to name, image and likeness restrictions."

Murphy also spoke with California state Sen. Nancy Skinner, who proposed SB 206. Skinner countered the NCAA's claim about the bill being unconstitutional by saying legal scholars spoke affirmatively to its constitutionality. She added the same scholars contended banning California schools from NCAA events would violate federal antitrust laws.