In May 2019, the California state Senate approved Senate Bill 206, a bill better known as the “Fair Pay to Play Act.” While the approval doesn’t mean the bill is a state law just yet, the potential ramifications of the bill would fundamentally change the landscape of college athletics under the NCAA.
If passed, the bill would allow student-athletes at California’s 24 colleges and universities to be paid for “the use of their name, image and likeness.” In other words, student-athletes at these schools would be allowed to sign endorsement deals, sell their autographs to sports memorabilia stores and be represented in video games, among other things. What they will not be able to do, however, is sign direct contracts with universities in exchange for their athletic services.
Although the NCAA is not subject to state laws, the bill would make it illegal for the NCAA to restrict or punish athletes for seeking these kinds of agreements. Despite this, NCAA president Mark Emmert has threatened to disqualify all California schools from competing for national championships if the bill passes, citing the potential uneven playing field that the law would create. If the bill is eventually signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom, it would take effect on Jan. 1, 2023.
“We are very clearly opposed to any type of pay-for-play system,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said at the conference’s annual media day. “Notably, the federal courts in the 9th Circuit have also weighed in now on multiple occasions to say they do not support any system for compensation for student-athletes that’s not tethered to education. I think we’d be opposed to the type of system you described, and it would certainly be a violation of NCAA rules.”
While this potential law would not affect University of Oregon student-athletes directly, the school’s association with the Pac-12, which includes four California-based members (USC, UCLA, Cal, Stanford), would guarantee ripple effects across the conference. Disqualification of these schools from national championship contention would hurt the Pac-12’s profile, and in turn, would hurt the University of Oregon. All else equal, the ability to be compensated for their likeness could be the deciding factor between a high school athlete choosing to play at a California school as opposed to a non-California school elsewhere.
“It’s going to have to change all across the nation,” Oregon football player Troy Dye said on the issue. “You can’t exclude UCLA. You can’t exclude USC. You can’t exclude Cal and Stanford from the Playoff. Not to mention San Diego State, San Jose State, Sac State, all these other schools that are Division-I programs who won’t be able to play in a bowl game because they’re getting what they deserve. I think the NCAA, over these next couple years, is going to have to do some real deep thinking and really change some of the things that they do.”
The changes made under this potential law would be undeniably positive from a student-athlete’s perspective. Being able to profit off their own likeness would open financial avenues that otherwise aren’t present for a lot of the NCAA’s underrepresented sports, most notably, women’s sports.
Take University of Oregon softball player Haley Cruse for example. Her personal Twitter account has over 42,000 followers, thanks in large part to her personality and marketability outside of her athletic talents. The National Pro Fastpitch league, the highest professional level a softball player can reach, has just 63,000 followers on its official Twitter account.
Another example: former men’s basketball player Bol Bol. He has over 900,000 followers on Instagram, while the official Oregon men’s basketball account has...64,000. He got injured as an NCAA athlete and fell to the second round of the NBA Draft as a result, costing him millions of dollars. Meanwhile, the Duck Store profited off the sale of his official, NCAA-licensed jersey - complete with his number - without his name on the back.
“All players believe that they’re their own personal brand,” Oregon State football player Isaiah Hodgins told the Daily Emerald. “I believe that if they want to build themselves, their name, that [law] could help a lot.”
It’s clear that there’s a market for these athletes beyond the sport itself. Under this potential law, everything that goes into building a personal brand as a college athlete would be properly compensated.
“It’s long overdue,” Dye said. “I think everybody can agree with that. The numbers don’t lie.”
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