Athletes at California colleges could hire agents and sign endorsement deals under a bill the state Legislature sent to the governor Wednesday, setting up a potential confrontation with the NCAA that could jeopardize the athletic futures of powerhouse programs like USC, UCLA, and Stanford.
According to the Los Angeles Times, lawmakers unanimously passed the legislation—also known as the Fair Pay to Play Act—on Wednesday, despite opposition from the NCAA. The organization’s Board of Governors argued that such a law would give California colleges and universities an “unfair advantage” when it came to recruitment, as it would incentivize students to attend a school where they would be permitted to sign endorsement deals and hire agents.
Traditionalists in the NCAA argue that allowing college athletes to earn money from endorsement deals or marketing promotions involving their name, image and likeness undermines the concept of collegiate sports being at the amateur level. The NCAA position is that players should focus on their education first and not participate in a pay-for-play system. The longstanding debate over whether colleges and the association take advantage of athletes who work hard and earn the institutions and the NCAA lots of money but receive none of the spoils has been subject to court challenges.
‘It would erase the critical distinction between college and professional athletics and because it gives those schools an unfair recruiting advantage, would result in them eventually being unable to compete in NCAA competitions,” the NCAA wrote in a letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom. “These outcomes are untenable and would negatively impact more than 24,000 California student-athletes across three divisions.
The controversy over whether amateurism is truly preserved in college sports intensified a decade ago when former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon sued the association after he was featured in an NCAA video without his permission. He won the antitrust lawsuit and received a $40 million settlement from Electronic Arts, the video game’s publisher. The settlement benefited tens of thousands of athletes who also appeared in video games without their permission.
At the end of the day, the NCAA generates billions of the backs of student-athletes. The least they could have done for them was to allow them to make their own money from their likeness.