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September 2019 marks a monumental date for college athletes in California. Governor Gavin Newsom signed a new bill into law, named the Fair Pay To Play Act, making it easier for college athletes in California to profit from their own name, image and likeness. The law won’t take effect until 2023, but I suspect we’ll be hearing numerous updates within the next 3 years. 

Once implemented, the bill aims to benefit athletes by putting their interests at a higher level importance, balancing out the power of the institutions they’re playing for. Currently, NCAA rules allow colleges to provide athletes with free tuition, room and board, and a stipend to cover other basic costs. Under this law, players can be further compensated. For example, they can begin selling their own merchandise or being a spokesperson for national and local businesses without fear of losing their NCAA eligibility or scholarships. Players will also be able to hire an agent to manage the process.

The governor speculates that his action will spark a ripple effect, leading other states to soon introduce similar legislation. In just the past few weeks, legislators in South Carolina, New York and Illinois began talking about the possibility of similar laws. 

Despite the support they’ve seen, the law has also sparked some controversy. From a wider perspective, this kind of legislation is putting pressure on the NCAA to change their rules regarding amateurism. The NCAA’s Board of Directors called the law “unconstitutional,” and may be willing to sue the state of California for violating the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, which says that only Congress has the power to regulate commerce among the states. 

As the laws stand now, California schools and their athletes would essentially be stuck between NCAA regulations and California law. There are also questions about the logistics of athletes profiting from their name and likeness, specifically regarding the relationship with current donors and individual athletic departments. 

Governor Newsom is aware of the potential conflict with the law, stating that he and his administration are looking forward to reviewing recommendations and working constructively to mitigate any unintended consequences that may negatively impact Californian colleges, universities and athletes.

The level of compensation college athletes should receive for their talents has been a long-debated issue. It will be interesting to see how California’s initiative impacts both public opinion and athletes at every level from youth sports to Olympic and professional athletes.