Into the details: What is ‘Fair Pay to Play’?

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On Feb. 4, the “Fair Pay to Play Act” was first read in the California State Assembly’s Committee on Rules — needless to say, it has come a long way since then.

What is now known as SB 206 was proposed by Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, and Sen. Steve Bradford, D-Gardena, shook and continues to shake the world of college athletics.

“California is loud and clear,” Skinner said. “Our student-athletes will no longer be denied the right to their name, image and likeness.”

The legislation itself is relatively simple. It prohibits any institution from upholding “any rule, requirement, standard or other limitation that prevents a student of that institution participating in intercollegiate athletics from earning compensation as a result of the use of the student’s name, image or likeness,” according to the bill’s text.

This includes both “postsecondary educational institutions” and organizations such as the NCAA and Pac-12, which have power over those institutions. These organizations would also not have power to levy penalties at schools for allowing students to be compensated for name, image and likeness rights.

Scholarships from the “postsecondary educational institution” do not count as compensation for name, image and likeness rights, and compensation for those same rights cannot interfere with scholarship eligibility.

The bill does not require universities to pay student-athletes, but SB 206 will create new markets for student-athletes that did not cut into the existing revenue streams in college athletics.

In accordance with the bill, student-athletes cannot be compensated for their name, image and likeness rights in ways that conflict with existing team contracts. In other words, if a college team was to hypothetically sign a contract with Nike, then student-athletes must wear Nike during all team events. Outside of team events, they may be compensated for their name, image and likeness rights and can negotiate endorsements from other brands, but while at “team events,” they are bound by team contracts.

There is precedent for this type of compensation. College coaches have similar rules for name, image and likeness rights.

Additional stipulations include the fact that student-athletes can work with agents, who must be credentialed. Compensation for name, image and likeness rights cannot be extended to prospective student-athletes to prevent payments during the recruiting process. The legislation does not extend to community colleges, though SB 206 does direct the creation of a committee to discuss name, image and likeness rights for athletes in community college.

The NCAA took all of this in and did not go quietly. On Sept. 9, the bill passed through the Assembly and heads began to turn. College athletics organizations across the country scrambled in the face of questions they did not have the answers to.

No one was sure how SB 206 would fit into the current model. It will not go into effect until 2023, so there is time to come up with solutions. The NCAA balked at the pressure, though, and rumors swirled of consequences including excluding California from competitions.

In the end, though, the questions remained larger than the answers, as the legislation passed through the state Senate.

On Sept. 11, the same day that the state Senate sent SB 206 to California Gov. Gavin Newsom, the NCAA Board of Governors sent a letter of its own to the governor’s desk.

“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,” said the letter.

Aside from comments regarding amateurism, the board cited concerns about disparities at the national level, advocating a slower approach for “all 50 states” and threatening to remove California schools from NCAA competitions to ensure “a level playing field for all student-athletes.”

Newsom didn’t flinch. He waited until Sept. 30 before signing SB 206 into law.

This measure will afford them the right to control their name, image, and likeness,” Bradford said in a press release. “It’s only right and long overdue. I applaud Gov. Newsom for signing this important measure.”

The NCAA’s response to Newsom approving SB 206 was less than ecstatic. The organization released a statement just hours after the signing, which underscored that  “Unfortunately, this new law already is creating confusion for current and future student-athletes, coaches, administrators and campuses, and not just in California.”

Ultimately,  the NCAA conceded. On Oct. 29, the NCAA Board of Governors released a statement directing all divisions to update “relevant bylaws and policies for the 21st century.”

The pressure proved to be too much. While the exact nature of the NCAA’s changes remains unclear, proponents of the bill tout its benefits.

Potential improvement in opportunities for female athletes, and the low to nonrevenue sports, such as tennis or track and field, will come with these new name, image and likeness rights.

Extensive analysis has been made of the potential, large-scale contracts that might be handed out to top football or basketball collegiate athletes, but plenty of student-athletes will have chances to sign deals with small-scale or local businesses, which will likely help pay for higher education-related expenses. 

It’s certainly fair to suggest that the passage of SB 206 has added to the preexisting level of chaos in college sports. Multiple other states, including New York, Florida and Illinois, have introduced legislation similar to SB 206, or at least expressed interest in doing so.

This chaos, however, will result in positive change, according to Skinner. 

“By restoring student athletes’ rights, we’ve sent a clear message to the NCAA, our colleges, and the entire sports industry: Equity must be the overriding value,” Skinner said in a press release, celebrating Newsom’s signing.

Some critics, such as former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, have also speculated about the adverse effects that SB 206 and similar bills may have on school loyalty.

Tebow told Forbes that he thinks allowing players to profit off their name, image and likeness “changes what’s special about college football. We turn it into the NFL, where who has the most money, that’s where you go.”

Proponents of the bill uphold that there is a civil rights issue at the center of this debate, which takes precedence over comparatively trivial matters, such as school spirit.

“Our colleges and universities should no longer treat student athletes as chattel, but as the valued individuals they are,” Bradford said in a press release. “This measure will afford them the right to control their name, image, and likeness. It’s only right and long overdue.”

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