In February of this year, California State Senator Nancy Skinner introduced the new Fair Pay to Play bill on the basis that the collegiate athletic industry currently in place “denies compensation to the very talent, very work that produces [its] revenue.” This idea which has since come to be the cause of a great deal of controversy within the intercollegiate and national athletic and legislative communities.
The bill will allow college student athletes to hire and be represented by professional agents, as well as strike endorsement deals with businesses such as Nike or Gatorade. It explicitly goes against the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) rules and long-standing precedent that student athletes at the collegiate level should earn a degree for their hard work and dedication, not money.
California State Governor Gavin Newsom completely rejected this philosophy when he signed the unanimously passed measure on September 30, saying it would equilibrate the power dynamic between student athletes and the institutions which profit off their work, namely universities. He said the bill is “going to change college sports for the better by having now the interests of the athletes, finally, on par with the interests of institutions.”
Some of those in favor of the new bill have even argued that, up to this point, collegiate athletes have been treated as second-class citizens in comparison to their peers. “Every single student in the university can market their name, image and likeness; they can go and get a YouTube channel, and they can monetize that. The only group that can’t are athletes,” explained Newsom.
Though calling them second-class citizens is a bit of an exaggeration, this statement does hold some truth, because shouldn’t all students be treated equally? It seems as if the NCAA’s current policies may be creating an unfair double standard between student athletes and regular students.
Athlete’s opinions vary in regards to the new bill. Many of those in favor of the measure, such as Haley Hudson — a former volleyball player at Stanford University — argue that “college is the only time they have to profit off their hard-earned athletic successes,” since there isn’t a professional league for each sport and, even then, not every collegiate athlete wants to, or is able to, play their sport professionally. Others don’t seem to mind not seeing any compensation for their athletic achievements yet, such as Michael Pittman Jr., a senior and football player at the University of Southern California (USC). Some student athletes are content with simply being able to play in the NCAA at all, seeing it as an opportunity to eventually reach a level of professionalism in which paychecks come into play. “I think it would be great for players to get paid, but honestly, that’s way past me. I’m just going to keep playing every week until I reach that level that actually pays me,” said Pittman.
Governor Newsom has mentioned that he thinks the new bill will inspire interest in establishing like measures at higher learning institutions across the nation. “It’s going to initiate dozens of other states to introduce similar legislation,” he said, moments before signing the bill. And it seems he’s not wrong; South Carolina and New York State legislation are already discussing following California’s lead and instituting similar measures.
So why has the matter been so controversial? Well, though the new bill seems to be a fair way to unite the interests of all involved parties — athletes, higher learning institutions, and businesses — it poses the threat of professionalizing college sports and of being economically detrimental. Universities in California get up to 100 million dollars in revenue from sporting events each year. If the NCAA institutes measures against our rebellious state legislature, Californian universities may, at the very least, have to pay some fees, or even be banned from participating in national intercollegiate athletic events, causing them to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue each year.
The NCAA has already threatened to take such measures, releasing a statement saying that it would “consider steps in California,” shortly after the bill was approved. However, it is very unlikely that the NCAA will declare California ineligible from participating in national sporting events, considering Californian teams are some of the most prominent in the nation, dominating many publicized intercollegiate sporting events. Governor Newsom seems to have noticed this too, though he takes these threats lightly and always responds with much bravado. National college sporting events are “one of the biggest media markets on planet Earth. [The] media cannot afford to not have California at scale being participatory in the tournaments,” he said. Though he understands that this is a threat, Newsom doesn’t take it all to heart.
It seems that, interestingly enough, the controversy around the matter isn’t limited to athletics, it’s actually putting the entire relationship between state and federal politics into question. Here, you have California — an individual state — instituting a new legislative rule that says it’s okay to do something that is nationally recognized as being illegal. Who is right? Or, more importantly, whose rules do you follow? It seems the name of this game has yet to be determined.