Proposed California bill may allow collegiate athletes to sign sponsorship deals

Football player about to throw a football
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College athletes in California may soon be able to sign external sponsorship deals and receive other kinds of pay with the introduction of the “Fair Pay to Play Act,” or SB 206, by state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, on Tuesday.

The act is designed to lift students out of poverty by allowing Division I athletes at California’s 24 public and private colleges to be paid directly through private or commercial sponsorships. Many college athletes — even those with full-ride scholarships from their colleges — live at or below the poverty level in the United States, according to a 2012 study by the National College Players Association and the Drexel University Sport Management Department that Skinner cited in a statement.

According to Skinner, she introduced the bill because students are the only ones in the college athletics system who do not currently receive proper compensation. She considers it an issue of “fundamental fairness.”

“These students are being exploited right now. They are wearing corporate logos; they are the core of alumni donations,” Skinner said. “And yet, they share no monetary value.”

Skinner compared the current treatment of student-athletes to the working conditions of UC Berkeley teaching assistants in the 1980s, explaining that student instructors previously received financial aid but worked without pay. It wasn’t until Skinner founded the Union of Graduate Student Employees — now known as the Graduate Student Instructors, or GSI, Union — that GSIs were granted compensation.

“Athletes are a little different, but they are still bringing value,” Skinner said.

Spokespeople of the UC Office of the President, or UCOP, did not have any comment on the impact SB 206 could have on UC campuses as of press time. They added, however, that they “appreciate Senator Skinner’s interest in the topic,” according to an email from UCOP spokesperson Kim Hale.

According to SB 206, university scholarships cover tuition cost but do not pay the students for their athletic work. The bill will also make it illegal for any organization to restrict the right of sponsorship, including revoking scholarships.

“I think it’s a great opportunity,” said campus sophomore Ian Oh. “I think most people would have a problem if (pay comes) from the university, but if it’s not from college endowments, it’s OK.”

Skinner said, however, that she anticipates opposition to the bill. NCAA has previously argued that allowing the payment of students based on their athletic talent would blur the lines between being an athlete and a student. The organization maintains that student-athletes would be “less integrated into the student community if players were paid professionals,” the NCAA website states.

Others, such as state Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena — co-author of the bill and a former athlete and coach — consider collegiate athlete pay a “civil rights issue.”

“For decades, young athletes have been generating billions of dollars for their colleges, universities, and corporate sponsors, but many are not only enduring the daily challenges as collegiate athletes, they are also struggling just to get by financially,” Bradford said in the press release. “It is time to right this historic wrong.”

Contact Julie Madsen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @Julie_Madsen_.