California Bill could shake Collegiate Athletics to its Core

by Joe Pierce - Contributor to Jock Smack


Picture a world where San Diego State and Fresno State are perennial College Football Playoff hopefuls. Now picture another world where there are no NCAA-sanctioned programs in the entire state of California.

A bill is about to hit California Governor Gavin Newsom’s bully pulpit that could lead to one of those outcomes.

By a vote of 66-0, the California State Assembly has passed SB 206, The Fair Pay to Play Act, which allows college athletes in California to sign endorsement deals, receive payment for the use of their name and likeness, and enter into any licensing deal made available to them.

If that isn’t enough, SB 206 would also allow athletes to retain an agent to negotiate these deals on their behalf.

The California State Senate, which will soon debate and vote on the legislation, has already voted 31-5 in favor of a similar Bill in May, so SB 206 should easily pass again when the time comes.  Governor Newsom is on record as being in favor of the bill, so the question isn’t whether it’ll pass, but when.

Where did this bill come from and why does California care?

Simply put, California believes that the NCAA unfairly profits from the $1.1 billion in revenue that its student-athletes generate, so it created SB 206 to force them into adopting some sort of revenue sharing model.

Never mind the hundreds of thousands of dollars student-athletes receive in tuition, room and board, books, food, and stipends over the course of their collegiate careers, let alone the opportunity to earn a degree that could forever transform the fortune of the student-athlete and their family, though.

“I’ve felt like their scholarship and all the advantages that the guys got was always a pretty darn good deal,” said Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, who spent nine seasons at USC, “To me that sounds like it’s an adult situation trying to make sense of a kid’s experience, and so they’ve justified it. I don’t know that it’s wrong, good for the kids and all, and if it’s the right thing then maybe the rest of the country adopts it. I never thought that it was necessary.

However, if politics teaches us anything, it’s that cash is king and nothing else matters.

Oh yeah, and the swag!

Obviously, the NCAA and every NCAA-affiliated university in California vehemently oppose this legislation. It won’t cost the NCAA or universities anything directly, per se, because SB 206 does not call for players to be paid a salary.

These hypothetical endorsement deals, however, would completely wreak havoc on endorsement deals that the NCAA and universities have struck on their own.

What happens when a UCLA basketball player signs an individual sneaker deal with Adidas after their school signs an exclusive deal with Nike?  How would Dr. Pepper, the primary sponsor of the College Football Playoff, feel if USC’s QB has a Mountain Dew in front of him during press conferences prior to a CFP game?

SB 206 turns the entire competitive and economic ecosystems of college athletics upside down and represents the ultimate Pandora’s Box to the NCAA.

First, if student-athletes in California are permitted to endorse products and profit from their names and likenesses, they forfeit their amateurism, which undermines the main tenet of the NCAA.  The NCAA would then be forced to choose between taking it or enforcing immediate ineligibility for the player and the immediate vacation of wins and championships for the program…at minimum.

Just as important would be the colossal shift of power in favor of California universities.  Every blue-chip athlete around the world would flock to California universities to maximize their income during their collegiate careers.  If that happens, how could the NCAA honestly say that their conference and national championships are fairly contested?

Politically, SB 206 would cause a tidal wave of copycat laws, particularly in left-leaning states that tend to copy what their big brother California does, so it’s fair to assume that similar laws would pop up in Oregon, Washington, New York, and throughout New England.

Would it end there, though?

States with perennial powerhouse programs like Alabama, LSU, Duke, UNC, Ohio State, etc. wouldn’t allow California to have such an unfair advantage and would probably follow suit with similar laws to even the playing field.

Would the NCAA have the guts to pull these schools’ memberships and risk allowing a new, competing governing body to rise with shinier toys and more appealing rules? In short, over the NCAA’s dead (governing) body.

Realistically, I can’t imagine any scenario that would lead to SB 206 becoming the law of the land.  There is too much money in flux, and everyone from the NCAA to the universities to the sponsors would have serious cases of heartburn and be forced to change the entire business model.

The NCAA is conducting a study to examine potential changes to how it regulates the use of its student-athletes’ names, images, and likenesses, with a targeted completion date of October.

My hunch is that the NCAA will finally give in and modestly change its rules to allow some sort of payment system for their athletes to profit off things like jersey sales, bobbleheads, video games, etc.  That, in turn, should kill SB 206 and other copycat laws, keeping the vast majority of the NCAA fiefdom intact.

When it comes down to it, that wouldn’t even be the real issue if any of these hypotheticals came to pass.  If you don’t think that California lawmakers would be seriously emboldened by drastically changing the way a multi-billion-dollar organization does business because of their activist legislation, you’re seriously mistaken, and more change would be imminent.

Get your sleds ready, boys and girls – we’re going down the slippery slope.