California unveils new “Pay-for-Play” model

In 2014, Todd Gurley, then a star tailback at the University of Georgia, was suspended for four games after it was found that he had received $3,000 in exchange for signed autographs and memorabilia. Three years later, UCF kicker Donald De La Haye was ruled ineligible after refusing to give into the NCAA’s demands that he demonetize his Youtube channel. Both of these stories are intertwined with the NCAA rule that denies collegiate student athletes the ability to profit from their image or likeness. However, athletes just like De La Haye and Gurley may be able to circumvent these restrictions in the near future, thanks to the introduction of a new piece of legislation: California’s Fair Pay for Play Act. Signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom this past September, this act ushers in new era of collegiate athletics and renews the uncertainty surrounding the NCAA’s authority. 

Fittingly, the Fair Pay for Play Act, otherwise known as Senate Bill 206, was signed from a barbershop chair on the set of Lebron James’s HBO talk show, The Shop. Perhaps no professional athlete has been more vocal than James when it comes to the social issues afflicting the United States, with topics ranging from gun control to what he perceives as the widespread “corruption” of the NCAA and its system. He’s not quite wrong; this past decade has seen some of the greatest scandals in NCAA history unfolding on the biggest stage. Following the 2018 federal investigation into college basketball recruiting, which indicted big-name basketball schools such as Kansas and Arizona for forking over thousands of dollars in order to secure of commitment of highly touted prospects Josh Jackson and Deandre Ayton, respectively, James was quick to criticize the current state of collegiate athletics.

“I don’t know if there’s any fixing the NCAA,” said James in a post-practice interview while still a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. “It’s been going on for many, many, many, many years.”
Senate Bill 206 may be a step in the right direction. Spurred by the complaints of James and other critics who have denounced the NCAA’s treatment of its athletes as exploitative for years, the act will permit college athletes in the state of California to profit off their name, image, and likeness. Set to go into effect in 2023, the bill will also give Golden State student-athletes the ability to sign with agents and earn endorsement money, both of which are currently prohibited by NCAA rules that aim to preserve amateurism. News of the bill spread rapidly through social media and news platforms, with many expressing excitement for it’s potential.

“I definitely think it was needed,” said junior Aydin Bandukwala. “I’m not sure how effective it will actually be once implemented, but there were obviously some problems with the current model that had to be addressed.”

As blue-chip prospects are finding increasingly inventive ways to circumnavigate the NCAA, this act could come at no better time. Had the bill been enacted five years earlier, perhaps Lamelo Ball wouldn’t have gone overseas to play professionally after dealing with eligibility concerns and instead endorsed Big Baller Brand at UCLA, just miles from home. Maybe teenaged soccer star Olivia Moultrie wouldn’t have forgone a scholarship at the University of North Carolina in order to turn pro at the age of 13 and sign with Nike. She could’ve had the opportunity to do both– to be a UNC athlete and a Nike athlete. Newsom hopes that these problems and more will be fixed through the Fair Pay for Play Act. 

“It’s going to change college sports for the better by finally having the interests of the athletes on par with the interests of the institutions,” said Newsom. “Now we’re rebalancing that power.”

However, not all are on board. Soon after Newsom’s episode aired, the Pac-12 released several statements disapproving of the act’s passage, which the conference cautioned will have “very significant negative consequences” such as a “negative disparate impact on female student-athletes.” In the light of the persistent and present disparity between the athletic funding of division one men’s teams and women’s teams, the long term ramifications of such a bill remain unseen. The bill has also come under fire for other reasons, as former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow criticized it for “changing what’s special about college football.” Similarly, NCAA president Mark Emmert released a highly critical statement against the act. 

“This is just a new form of professionalism and a different way of converting students into employees,” said Emmert to The Indianapolis Star. 

Furthermore, some argue that the act adds an entirely new dynamic to athlete recruitment and the development of collegiate programs. Hypothetically, boosters would have the ability to bait highly-ranked athletes with the promise of lucrative endorsement deals, which could in turn shift the entire structure of cashflow sports such as football and basketball towards that of a professional league. The rich would get richer, and the poor would get poorer. Some believe that this act could lead to the decimation of mid-major athletic programs at schools such as Gonzaga, Boise State, and Davidson.

“I feel like this is a dangerous line to walk,” said senior Alex Bradham. “It could mess up the entire dynamic of college sports and eliminate any hopes of fair competition.” 

Despite the validity of these concerns, many states across the country are looking to implement similar bills, and there are whispers that the act could even garner federal support through congress. If the NCAA does, in fact, change its rules in compliance with California’s Fair Pay for Play Act and similar bills that are sure to follow, we could be witnessing the end of collegiate athletics as we know it. For better or for worse, this bill is the first of its kind. Nobody knows exactly what long term effects it will have on the NCAA and the student-athlete model as a whole.