SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – California lawmakers on Wednesday voted unanimously to allow college athletes to accept paid endorsements, ignoring the NCAA’s warnings that the move could make the state’s powerhouse universities ineligible for events like the Final Four and Rose Bowl.
The measure, which has gained the support of superstar athletes such as LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, cleared both houses this week without opposition. Gov. Gavin Newsom will have 30 days to act on the bill once it reaches his desk and if he signs it, California would become the first state with such a law.
Democratic state Sen. Bob Archuleta, told his colleagues about his son and fellow football players not being able to eat out or pay for minor car repairs while playing football for the University of Southern California in the 1980s. He said it’s time that the NCAA stop exploiting its athletes.
“We’re doing the right thing, making sure these young men and women are taken care of,” Archuleta said.
Coined the Fair Pay to Play Act, Senate Bill 206 would give athletes at universities that receive an average of $10 million annually in media contracts the ability to gain from their name, image and likeness through sponsorships and endorsements. Players at universities including Stanford, USC and UCLA would have the freedom to sign deals with companies like Nike and retain their eligibility beginning in 2023.
The NCAA, which has lucrative television deals for many of its sports and profits immensely from jersey and ticket sales, is predictably opposing the bill. Just prior to Wednesday’s vote, the NCAA Board of Governors sent a letter to Gov. Newsom, calling SB 206 an “unconstitutional” and “unilateral” action.
“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,” the letter states.
The bill’s author scoffed at the letter and called it a “hollow threat.” State Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, hopes that her bill will lead to more athletes staying in school and completing degrees before turning pro.
If Newsom signs the bill, others states and even Congress could follow. U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, R-North Carolina has introduced a similar proposal.
There are inherent financial and legal risks involved with the bill: California universities could miss out on millions if they are barred from certain events and the NCAA and its deep pockets are sure to challenge SB 206 in court.
Those risks were pushed aside unanimously by the Legislature this week, setting up a potential high-profile matchup between the Golden State and the NCAA.
“California sometimes just has to lead the way,” said Republican state Sen. Jeff Stone, whose daughter was a collegiate athlete.