The NCAA finds itself playing catchup once again. The governing body of college sports in the United States is considering all of its options after a monumental bill was signed into law. California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the ‘Fair Pay to Play’ act into law on the final day of September. The ruling will now provide college athletes in California an opportunity to be compensated for the rights to their name, image and likeness. The law does not go into effect until January 2023, but the NCAA was already worried about the ramifications that the bill will have on their current model of operation. 

The NCAA launched an appeal to the State of California lawmakers to stall proceedings to sign the bill into law. Regardless of the last-ditch effort, Governor Newsom signed the bill into law on Los Angeles Lakers’ star LeBron James’ media outlet The Uninterrupted. The move gives student-athletes the opportunity to finally profit off of their likeness in every avenue. This means that even their inclusion in a college-centric video game would require each athlete to be compensated. Those jerseys sold in the school bookstore? Student-athletes will now have the chance to gain a profit from their sales. 

The FPTP act allows student athletes to earn money from sources outside of the learning institution they represent. The new legislations forbids colleges and universities from preventing a student-athlete from earning compensation for their image and likeness. Student-athletes are also eligible to hire licensed representation — yep, agents. This is a landmark decision for all college sports. 

There are major questions regarding the law that still need to be ironed out. The NCAA is a national organization that has jurisdiction across the US. While the state of California has one of the largest populations, it still falls under NCAA rule so how can the new act be enforced? Another question is: How will this impact female athletes? Will there be wage equality? Will a women’s volleyball player be able to earn a comparable wage to her men’s volleyball counterpart?

In its current form, the FPTP act has no provisions on which businesses are allowed to pay athletes. There is also no hard or soft salary cap. This means each high school star could become a prized recruit in a more publicized bidding war. That could be highly problematic because it could lead to many conflicts of interest. The legislation does outline that athletes are prohibited from signing exclusive deals with rival athletic apparel companies from that of the school they attend. That means no signing to Nike if your school is sponsored by Adidas, and so on and so forth. 

This decision provides a groundbreaking leap towards a new athletic amateur model for the 25-some athletic directors (ADs) at division one colleges in California that this new rule will apply to. We’ve already heard from some — specifically Power Five programs — who are reluctant to enforce the new law. The NCAA has threatened to exclude schools that abide by the legislation from tournaments, bowl games and any profitable venture associated with college athletics. That would amount to millions of dollars being withheld from programs accustomed to collecting six- and seven-figure bonuses for their participation. 

But not everyone is on board. Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith spoke out against the Fair Pay to Play Act to

“My concern with the California bill — which is all the way wide open with monetizing your name and your likeness — is it moves slightly towards pay-for-play,” Smith said, “and it’s very difficult for us — the practitioners in this space — to figure out how do you regulate it. How do you ensure that the unscrupulous bad actors do not enter that space and ultimately create an unlevel playing field?

While ADs are left to weigh the pros and cons, other states have already begun to file their own Fair Pay to Play Act legislation. Florida state representative Kionne McGhee submitted bill 251 that would allow student-athletes in the Sunshine State to be compensated for their services in competition. That follows New York State Senator Kevin Parker’s bill that introduced the idea of athletic departments sharing 15% of the total revenue to student-athletes. California, New York and Florida are home to numerous schools that would impact all levels of college athletics. The NCAA is staring at its own mortality sooner than it would’ve liked. 

The NCAA has no one to blame but themselves. They’ve argued that student-athletes are amateurs and should not be considered employees of their schools. That argument had merit when football players wore leather helmets and basketballers sported thigh-high shorts. In this modern age, the NCAA has tried to deny that their current model is out of date and skewed in favor of institutions instead of the athletes that represent them. 

Instead of taking proactive measures, the NCAA is attempting to play defense against the entire country. It speaks to the arrogance that those in power have, as well as the control they’ve long wielded over the sport. The college sports industry generates $1 billion in revenue, making it one of the most profitable organizations in North America. It appears that, after many pleas, the league is finally going to cut in the athletes they’ve exploited for decades.

There is plenty of change coming on the horizon, but it’s still a ways away. The California Fair Pay to Play Act doesn’t go into effect until 2020. You can’t rule out the NCAA’s legal firepower to contest these incoming laws, bills and proposals. Yet, the promise of change has many student-athletes excited about a future where ramen isn’t the meal of choice after a big victory. 

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