California’s Fair Pay to Play legislation isn’t the final answer to the longstanding debate on whether college athletes should be paid, but it’s a start.
On Friday, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the SB206 Act, commonly known as Fair Pay to Play, into law — which allows college athletes in the state to make money off their own image and likeness. He did so during the taping of an episode of LeBron’s James’ HBO show “The Shop," which aired on Monday morning (when the news was officially released) and both excited and enraged the totality of college-level athletics around the U.S.
Newsom didn’t hold back when he revealed the rhetoric university presidents had when calling him out on his decision:
“They don’t even outsource the phone calls,” Newsom said during the episode, which aired Monday morning. “(They said) what the hell are you doing destroying college sports. They all think this is the end of Title IX. They’re saying you’re destroying the purity of amateurism. Not once did they talk about the needs of these kids.”
Let’s cut to the chase: The NCAA has not all of a sudden changed its views or standpoint on the topic of paying or allowing college athletes to be paid for their performance. If anything it’s only made them want to fight harder against a polarizing topic (depending on which economic class you’re talking to).
The law is slated to go into effect in the state on January 1, 2023, which gives the NCAA more than enough time to wage its war against California — home to thousands of college athletes represented in more than half a dozen athletics conferences including four institutions in the PAC-12.
Soon after the episode was released, the NCAA released a statement:
"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.”
And not soon after that, the PAC-12 also released it’s own statement:
“The Pac-12 is disappointed in the passage of SB 206 and believes it will have very significant negative consequences for our student-athletes and broader universities in California... Our universities have led important student-athlete reform over the past years, but firmly believe all reforms must treat our student-athletes as students pursuing and education, and not as professional athletes. We will work with out universities to determine next steps and ensure continuing support for our student-athletes.”
But where the NCAA and its affiliates see fault, economists and college athlete advocates like Andy Schwarz see empowerment.
Schwarz — an economist who’s been writing about and advocating for the improvement of college sports since 1999 and consulted California’s Senator Nancy Skinner, who co-authored and introduced the bill — has said Fair Pay to Play addresses college athletes’ value.
“From what I’ve seen, the NCAA is arguing that this is an effort of California to regulate and restrict interstate commerce," Schwarz said. “But that was something that we thought a lot about, and to the extent my advice played a role, it was encouraging Senator Skinner to focus on deregulating the market. Rather than mandating that schools do anything, the bill simply says schools cannot impede commercial transactions.”
The whole point of signing SB206 into law was to let the market show these athletes have value, something even 20 years ago seemed outrageous.
“I don’t want to say this is checkmate, but this is a major problem for the NCAA," Newsom said. "Now we’re re-balancing that power arrangement.”
But in order to keep momentum other states will need to — and have already — tried to or have started working on similar legislation.
New York state senator Kevin Parker proposed a bill — the New York Collegiate Compensation Act — which would require colleges to pay its athletes directly, and make the state the first to do so. North Carolina, South Carolina, Washington and Colorado have also tried to make strides towards the similar effort this year.