California leads the way in passing law to pay student athletes
There was a video that circulated on Twitter during the 2019 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Titled “Student and athlete — a day in the life,” the short served as an ad for the NCAA and depicted a young man’s routine during a typical day as both a university student and collegiate athlete.
In the span of 30 seconds, he wakes up pre-dawn, raises his hand in the front row of a class, mixes it up with friends on the yard, jogs with teammates, calls plays and gets in-huddle coaching during a basketball game, checks his phone in the library afterward and, finally, lays back down in bed, poised to do it all again the next day.
The reaction from former and current collegiate athletes ranged from lampooning it via comedic memes and parodic videos to some providing their actual schedules showing far less leisure time and participation in education-based activities. The undercurrent of the criticism was that student athletes are overworked, undersupported and, most importantly, unpaid for their labor.
On Sept. 30, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 206 into law, granting NCAA athletes the ability to sign endorsement deals and allowing them to pursue sponsorships with the help of agents.
The long-overdue move represents an avenue of opportunity for thousands of athletes who have been profited from without receiving any of the rewards. It’s also a welcome step toward alleviating the glaring racial disparity of black athletes in major sports, who have been bell cows for their respective schools without being paid and sometimes unjustly punished for selling their own merchandise.
How that will unfold is yet to play out, but it’s not unsupported that the NCAA’s current player-student model is untenable.
In recent years, there have been increasing calls for athletes to be compensated, especially as major college sports have become big business, with conferences inking TV deals and schools garnering huge sponsorship contracts with companies like Nike and Adidas. During March Madness alone, the NCAA earned nearly $1 billion over the course of a few weeks.
Stars like LeBron James and Draymond Green came out in support of the bill, saying it’s a step in the right direction of economic justice for athletes who struggle to handle all the secondary costs of attending college — which can include finding ways to eat. Former UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi, whose viral floor routine earned the PAC-12 Conference and the NCAA millions of views across social media, didn’t receive a dime for the performance.
Critics of the bill say that allowing players to be paid will blur the lines between professional and amateur athletes, but it’s hard to see how the current dynamic doesn’t further entrench the established powers that already gain so much from players’ unpaid labor.
Earlier this year, a federal judge in California ruled in Alston v. NCAA that the NCAA’s rules on compensation violate antitrust laws and need to be expanded. But before the Fair Pay to Play Act was signed, Pesident Renu Khator, along with 21 other NCAA representatives, came out against its passage, saying among other things the bill was unconstitutional.
This embarrassing move is sure to land on the wrong side of history. So will Khator’s conservative style of leadership, which has grated some of her once-supporters and eroded her past progressive bona fides.
Assuming the law survives all the court challenges that will surely be mounted against it, when it goes into effect in 2023, it’s sure to cause a seismic shift across amateur sports.
It’s easy to imagine a scenario where the bill’s elements force other power states like Texas, Alabama, Ohio and Florida to adopt similar provisions rather than ceding crucial recruiting advantages to California and waging a costly fight they’re likely to lose.
Then, instead of simply luring top athletes with gigantic stadiums and state-of-the-art facilities, conferences will have to contend with the landscape of athletes making business-type decisions about where their talents will be properly compensated and how they’ll best be marketed while still in school.
The central question asks whether athletes should be paid for their labor as schools are making billions from their product, and California has taken the first step in finally getting an answer.
Drew Jones is a print journalism senior and can be reached at [email protected]