Bill Could Have Big Impact on California College Sports

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A bill designed to transform the economics of major college sports in California continues to move through the legislative process and faces a key upcoming vote in the Appropriations Committee.

As reported by The Mercury News of San Jose, Senate Bill 1401, the “College Athlete Race and Gender Equity Act,” has been placed in the suspense file, a repository for legislation carrying significant fiscal impact, and could be voted on later this month.

As law, SB-1401 would create a revenue-sharing arrangement between California universities and athletes in the money-making sports of football and basketball. Millions of dollars typically used to support athletic department operations instead would be placed in “degree completion funds.”

The requirements could place the California schools in the Pac-12 and Mountain West conferences at a significant financial disadvantage, create Title IX complications and threaten the long-term viability of Olympic sports such as softball, gymnastics and swimming, The Mercury News reported.

An analysis published by the Appropriations Committee prior to SB-1401 moving to the suspense file projected an economic impact of $34 million to $36 million annually for the University of California and $1 million to $9.3 million annually for California State University system schools.

According to the analysis: “By requiring institutions of higher education to establish degree completion funds for student athletes, this bill could result in a substantial redistribution of a college’s athletic program revenues. This could then lead to significant local cost pressures for colleges to backfill these resources and balance their budgets to maintain the existing level of services.”

The bill’s lead author, state senator Steven Bradford, helped create California’s groundbreaking Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) law in 2019.

According to The Mercury News, SB-1401 differs from NIL in crucial ways. NIL grants all college athletes the opportunity to be compensated by the private sector in exchange for product endorsements, whereas SB-1401 permits athletes in the profitable sports to receive payments directly from the same athletic department budgets that support daily operations for dozens of money-losing Olympic sports protected by Title IX.

Football and basketball players would have access to a maximum of $25,000 annually, with the remainder of their revenue shares available upon completion of their degrees.

Further, it prevents athletes from being deemed employees even though they would receive direct compensation for services rendered.

Public and private universities alike fear that SB-1401 could devastate the budgets for money-losing Olympic sports that depend on the revenue generated by football and men’s basketball.

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