Kate McCabe / Gavel Media

California's 'Fair Pay to Play' Act Kindles Debate Over Paying College Athletes

For those keeping count, consider LeBron James in and Tim Tebow out for the famous athletes that are backing Senate Bill 206, California’s “Fair Pay to Play” Act. 

Since earning a 39-0 vote by the Senate in California, the bill is on its way to California Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk. If Newsom signs the bill into law, college athletes attending schools such as UCLA and Stanford would have the opportunity to earn compensation for the use of their names, images, and likenesses beginning Jan. 1, 2023. Athletes would also be able to hire agents while still in college.

The NCAA, the organization in charge of regulating student-athletes in America, has a long-standing ban on allowing athletes that are still in college to earn a profit associated with their skill or name. In a letter to Governor Newsom, the NCAA Board of Governors argued for the bill to be vetoed.

According to the organization, the letter was written with the sole intention of “making clear [the] belief that this bill would wipe out the distinction between college and professional athletics and eliminate the element of fairness that supports all of college sports.”

Upon calling SB-206 “unconstitutional,” the letter continued on by saying that the bill is an “unfair advantage” and all California schools will be removed from NCAA competitions if put into effect. The NCAA would also consider taking legal action against the state of California under the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution. The clause would play into the basis of the legal action threatened by the NCAA, since it only provides Congress the power to regulate commerce among the states.

If put into effect, SB-206 will be the second time college athletes have earned a victory against the NCAA. In 2009, former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon filed a federal lawsuit against the NCAA to determine whether Division I men’s basketball and football players should be allowed to receive compensation when their names, images, and likenesses are used commercially.

In 2014, a judge in the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of O’Bannon. The amateurism rules of the NCAA were found to be in violation of federal antitrust laws. This led the judge to prevent the NCAA from prohibiting its schools from giving student-athletes scholarships up to the full cost of attendance. Further instructions included putting $5,000 per year into a trust for athletes after graduation as deferred compensation.

The future of the SB-206 is still in question, as Governor Newsom still has not made a decision regarding the future of the bill. However, if he does not take action, SB-206 will become law. As of Sept. 11, Newsom has 30 days to sign or veto the bill. 

LeBron James took to Twitter to show his support for the bill on Sept. 5 with a series of tweets and shared a YouTube video by the College Athlete Advocacy Initiative. James tweeted that “California can change the game” and called the law “a game-changer” that could allow “college athletes [to] responsibly get paid for what they do and the billions they create.”

Tim Tebow touched on the subject days later during a segment on First Take, saying the bill will change the perspective of college sports from “not about us or we, to just be about me.”

The continuous dilemma over financial compensation for college athletes has provided heated debate for years. If California passes this bill, it could set a precedent for other states to do the same, as well as provide the NCAA more of a reason to re-evaluate their stance on paying college athletes.

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