California Takes Another Step Toward Testing The NCAA

USC v UCLA

LOS ANGELES, CA- NOVEMBER 17: Wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. #1 of the USC Trojans can't hold onto a pass at the goal line as defensive back Adarius Pickett #6 of the UCLA Bruins reaches to knock away the football in the fourth quarter of a NCAA

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The NCAA has faced opposition to its amateur model before, but this movement may be the strongest yet because of its strength. California’s state senate approved the Fair Pay to Play Act in May by a vote of 31-5, though the senate must vote on it again because changes have been made since then. But the bill is expected to advance to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who can sign it later this fall.

This time, the pressure on the NCAA may be too much to ignore. College athletics’ governing body has threatened to refuse to include California public schools in its championships, but push-back of that kind would generate contentious lawsuits. Any plan to proceed with the NCAA in its current form without including Stanford, Cal, USC and UCLA, to say nothing of the other schools, seems far-fetched.

The NCAA has also asked for more time to consider a change to its model, but California’s lawmakers have insisted the organization has had plenty of time, considering the number of challenges to amateurism this century. That plan isn’t likely to last long, either. Public criticism from all angles has grown louder — the same kind of public criticism, albeit on a completely different issue, that persuaded the NCAA to retreat on its stance regarding accredited agents.

LeBron James, who also opposed the so-called “Rich Paul Rule,” wrote on Twitter last week, “Everyone (in) California- call your politicians and tell them to support SB 206! This law is a GAME CHANGER. College athletes can responsibly get paid for what they do and the billions they create.” Draymond Green reacted to the news Monday night on Twitter: “California!!! Extremely excited about the bill that passed tonight allowing players to be paid. Finally, we are making some progress and getting this thing right. Kids going to sleep hungry, can’t afford ANYTHING yet these Universities are profiting off those same kids. SIGN IT!!”

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders responded to James’ tweet by adding, “College athletes are workers. Pay them.” Another candidate, businessman Andrew Yang, has made the issue part of his campaign platform.

The Fair Pay to Play Act has opposition from California school officials, such as Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir, who wrote to the state senate: “Allowing student-athletes to receive compensation from their name, image, and likeness, would present serious challenges for higher education institutions and to the collegiate sports model. We believe that for any reform to be fair and meaningful to all student-athletes it needs to occur at the national level and be adopted by the NCAA.”

Such a conundrum is unprecedented for the schools and for the NCAA: It’s unclear, for example, how the NCAA would change its enforcement procedures in such a situation or how schools in other states would respond.

The California bill would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2023, and it’s possible, in theory, that the NCAA would have a tweaked model in place by that date anyway. The organization has already called for a working group to “examine” the possibility of allowing athletes to profit off of their name. But similar, if less organized, efforts have been made in the past with no action, hence the pressure from the California legislature.

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California has moved one step closer to what could be a groundbreaking showdown on amateurism, as the state assembly on Monday voted in favor of the Fair Pay to Play Act.

The bill, which has now been approved twice in the assembly, would force state colleges and universities to allow athletes to profit off of their name, image and likeness.

The NCAA has faced opposition to its amateur model before, but this movement may be the strongest yet because of its strength. California’s state senate approved the Fair Pay to Play Act in May by a vote of 31-5, though the senate must vote on it again because changes have been made since then. But the bill is expected to advance to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who can sign it later this fall.

This time, the pressure on the NCAA may be too much to ignore. College athletics’ governing body has threatened to refuse to include California public schools in its championships, but push-back of that kind would generate contentious lawsuits. Any plan to proceed with the NCAA in its current form without including Stanford, Cal, USC and UCLA, to say nothing of the other schools, seems far-fetched.

The NCAA has also asked for more time to consider a change to its model, but California’s lawmakers have insisted the organization has had plenty of time, considering the number of challenges to amateurism this century. That plan isn’t likely to last long, either. Public criticism from all angles has grown louder — the same kind of public criticism, albeit on a completely different issue, that persuaded the NCAA to retreat on its stance regarding accredited agents.

LeBron James, who also opposed the so-called “Rich Paul Rule,” wrote on Twitter last week, “Everyone (in) California- call your politicians and tell them to support SB 206! This law is a GAME CHANGER. College athletes can responsibly get paid for what they do and the billions they create.” Draymond Green reacted to the news Monday night on Twitter: “California!!! Extremely excited about the bill that passed tonight allowing players to be paid. Finally, we are making some progress and getting this thing right. Kids going to sleep hungry, can’t afford ANYTHING yet these Universities are profiting off those same kids. SIGN IT!!”

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders responded to James’ tweet by adding, “College athletes are workers. Pay them.” Another candidate, businessman Andrew Yang, has made the issue part of his campaign platform.

The Fair Pay to Play Act has opposition from California school officials, such as Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir, who wrote to the state senate: “Allowing student-athletes to receive compensation from their name, image, and likeness, would present serious challenges for higher education institutions and to the collegiate sports model. We believe that for any reform to be fair and meaningful to all student-athletes it needs to occur at the national level and be adopted by the NCAA.”

Such a conundrum is unprecedented for the schools and for the NCAA: It’s unclear, for example, how the NCAA would change its enforcement procedures in such a situation or how schools in other states would respond.

The California bill would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2023, and it’s possible, in theory, that the NCAA would have a tweaked model in place by that date anyway. The organization has already called for a working group to “examine” the possibility of allowing athletes to profit off of their name. But similar, if less organized, efforts have been made in the past with no action, hence the pressure from the California legislature.

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I write about sports business for Forbes and also contribute to FiveThirtyEight, The Washington Post and other outlets. I was previously the Louisville football writer f...