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California Governor signs Fair Pay To Play Act into law

California Governor Gavin Newsom on September 30 signed into law a bill allowing college athletes in the state to earn money from the use of their names, likenesses and images, likely setting up a heated battle with the NCAA over the state of amateur sports in the US.

Newsom signed the bill during an episode of The Shop, a digital talk show from Uninterrupted, the media company led in part by National Basketball Association superstar LeBron James. The episode, taped three days before airing on September 30, saw Newsom appear with James, Women’s National Basketball Association star Diana Taurasi, and former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon, who has been fighting for years for college players to gain more control of their own likeness rights.

“It’s going to initiate dozens of other states to introduce similar legislation,” Newsom said on the show. “And it’s going to change college sports for the better by having now the interest finally of the athletes on par with the interests of the institution. Now we are rebalancing that power.”

The bill would prohibit the NCAA from barring a university in California from competition its athletes are compensated from the use of their names, likenesses or images, starting January 1, 2023. The NCAA has long expressly prohibited college student-athletes from profiting off of their own names and likenesses.

The newly signed CA legislation will apply to any four-year public or private university in the state receiving at least $10m (€9m) annually in media rights. It does not apply to community colleges, and student-athletes will not be allowed to accept endorsement deals conflicting with their schools’ existing contracts.

“This is a game-changer for student athletes and for equity in sports,” James said. “Athletes at every level deserve to be empowered and to be fairly compensated for their work, especially in a system where so many are profiting off of their talents.” 

The NCAA, predictably, blasted Newsom’s move and said it is “already creating confusion for current and future student-athletes, coaches, administrators and campuses, and not just in California”. The NCAA, arguing that any reform for college athletes go through its office, had previously urged Newsom not to sign the Fair Pay to Play Act calling it “harmful” and “unconstitutional.”

“It is clear that a patchwork of different laws from different states will make unattainable the goal of providing a fair and level playing field for 1,100 campuses and nearly half a million student-athletes nationwide,” the NCAA’s latest statement continued. 

The Pac-12 Conference, which has four schools in California, predictably blasted the state’s move.

“This legislation will lead to the professionalization of college sports and many unintended consequences related to this professionalism, imposes a state law that conflicts with national rules, will blur the lines for how California universities recruit student-athletes and compete nationally, and will likely reduce resources and opportunities for student-athletes in Olympic sports and have a negative disparate impact on female student-athletes,” the conference said.