Athletes at universities in California are one step closer to being able to profit off their likeness as sweeping legislation meant to neuter the NCAA's amateurism bylaws was approved by the state's Senate on Wednesday.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, NCAA leaders sent a letter to California's Gov. Gavin Newsom to claim that the legislation is "harmful" and "unconstitutional." After House and Senate approval, the bill now sits on the governor's desk.
The NCAA claims that the legislation would create an unequal playing field.
"California Senate Bill 206 would upend that balance," the NCAA said in its letter to Newsom. "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 bill would allow student athletes to earn money off endorsements, autograph sessions and public appearances. The bill would not require colleges to pay athletes. The legislation was unanimously approved by both the House and Senate this week.
Under current bylaws, even something as simple as someone buying lunch for a student athlete would be considered an improper benefit.
Complicating matters for the NCAA, the legislation would prohibit the NCAA from banning teams in California from participating in intercollegiate competitions. That point could force the NCAA to either make dramatic changes to its bylaws or take the state of California to court.
The legislation would be effective as of Jan. 1, 2023.
In May, the NCAA announced the formation of a working group of college administrators. Their goal is to examine how to respond to legislation like the one put forth by California. Ohio State Director of Athletics Gene Smith said that the NCAA is not interested in having colleges directly paying student athletes.
“While the formation of this group is an important step to confirming what we believe as an association, the group’s work will not result in paying students as employees,” Smith said. “That structure is contrary to the NCAA’s educational mission and will not be a part of this discussion.”
The working group said in May it would provide an update in August, but so far, has not provided an update.
While the NCAA, led by President Mark Emmert, and others are staunchly against paying athletes, college athletics is flushed with money, and its practitioners are handsomely compensated. In 2016, the NCAA and CBS came to an $8.8 billion, eight-year extension to air the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.
In 2012, ESPN agreed to a $7.3 billion deal through 2026 to air the College Football Playoff.
One of the NCAA leaders who signed the letter on Wednesday was Ohio State President Michael Drake. Ohio State's men's basketball coach is paid more than $7 million a season. Ohio State's new head football coach is paid $7.6 million.
The players are compensated with a college scholarship which generally includes room and board. A player who receives what the NCAA deems as an improper benefit, such as an endorsement deal or a free lunch, would be considered ineligible. There have been many instances of players breaking NCAA bylaws, causing teams to be disqualified from NCAA championships.
The bill has not only received bipartisan support, it has garnered support from athletes, including Lakers forward LeBron James.