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California Gov. Signs Landmark ‘Fair Pay to Play’ Bill

Andy Berg

California Governor Gavin Newsom today signed into law the state’s “Fair Pay to Play Act (SB 206), which gives college student athletes in California the ability to benefit financially from their name, image and likeness.

In a statement, Newsom called the bill the beginning of a movement.

“This is the beginning of a national movement – one that transcends geographic and partisan lines,” Newsom said. “Collegiate student athletes put everything on the line – their physical health, future career prospects and years of their lives to compete. Colleges reap billions from these student athletes’ sacrifices and success but, in the same breath, block them from earning a single dollar. That’s a bankrupt model – one that puts institutions ahead of the students they are supposed to serve. It needs to be disrupted.”

Governor Newsom signed the bill during a special episode of UNINTERRUPTED’s The Shop, alongside the bill’s co-sponsor Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) and Senator Steven Bradford, LeBron James, UNINTERRUPTED’s CEO Maverick Carter, UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi, WNBA star Diana Taurasi, former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon and Rich Paul. 

James, a vocal proponent of the bill, praised the changes in the bill.

“This is a game changer for student athletes and for equity in sports,” said James. “Athletes at every level deserve to be empowered and to be fairly compensated for their work, especially in a system where so many are profiting off of their talents. Part of the reason I went to the NBA was to get my mom out of the situation she was in. I couldn’t have done that in college with the current rules in place. This bill will help students athletes who are in a similar situation.”

Starting on Jan. 1, 2023, the Fair Pay to Play Act will allow all student athletes enrolled in public and private four-year colleges and universities in California to earn money from their name, image, or likeness. 

Student athletes will also be able to hire sports agents and not lose their scholarships if they receive income for their work. Further, SB 206 prohibits California colleges from enforcing NCAA rules that prevent student athletes from earning compensation, and will prevent the NCAA from banning California universities from intercollegiate sports if their athletes sign sponsorship deals.

A Sept. 11, statement addressed to Newsom argued that the bill would “upend [the] level playing field for all student-athletes.”

“It isn’t possible to resolve the challenges of today’s college sports environment in this way — by one state taking unilateral action,” wrote members of the NCAA Board of Governors in the statement. “With more than 1,100 schools and nearly 500,000 student-athletes across the nation, the rules and policies of college sports must be established through the Association’s collaborative governance system. A national model of collegiate sport requires mutually agreed upon rules.”

Late Monday, the NCAA released the following statement in response to the bill: 

As a membership organization, the NCAA agrees changes are needed to continue to support student-athletes, but improvement needs to happen on a national level through the NCAA’s rules-making process. Unfortunately, this new law already is creating confusion for current and future student-athletes, coaches, administrators and campuses, and not just in California.

We will consider next steps in California while our members move forward with ongoing efforts to make adjustments to NCAA name, image and likeness rules that are both realistic in modern society and tied to higher education.

As more states consider their own specific legislation related to this topic, it is clear that a patchwork of different laws from different states will make unattainable the goal of providing a fair and level playing field for 1,100 campuses and nearly half a million student-athletes nationwide.

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