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California lawmakers take aim at NCAA with another push to pay college athletes

Jan 30, 2023

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The emergence of name, image and likeness (NIL) deals to college sports recruiting has significantly altered the landscape of how NCAA programs acquire talent. Now, new legislation being discussed in California is attempting to level the playing field by bringing even more changes to the process.

Introduced earlier this month, the College Athlete Protection Act aims to require schools that play major college sports to pay some student athletes as much as $25,000 annually. The bill would also compel colleges to cover the cost of six-year guaranteed athletic scholarships and post-college medical expenses.

“This is an extremely competitive and comprehensive bill that I believe will provide the income and health services that our college athletes deserve,” said California Assembly Member Chris Holden.

Division I schools in California would have to share 50% of their revenue with athletes who are considered undervalued because the amount of their athletic scholarships does not match their market value. Additionally, the legislation calls for schools to establish and enforce safety standards and transparency in recruiting, certify college athletic agents, preserve all sports programs and ensure that they are Title IX compliant.

“It’s a bill that will end the blatant exploitation of California’s college athletes,” said Ramogi Huma, executive director of the National College Players Association. “The NCAA’s economic model is illegal and based on racial injustice. The NCAA uses amateurism as cover to systemically strip generational wealth from predominantly Black athletes from lower income households to pay for lavish salaries of predominantly white coaches, athletic directors, commissioners and NCAA administrators.”

Back in 2019, it was California that opened the floodgates to all the NIL deals that are arising today. Known as the Fair Pay to Play Act, the state was the first to pass a law that gave college athletes the right to be compensated for name, image and likeness. Since then, more than two dozen other states have ratified NIL laws, but these new pieces of legislation have made it difficult for the NCAA to create uniform rules on NIL deals that can be applied nationwide.

“The coaches and the athletic department not having oversight of the people brokering deals that are bringing in the talent or paying the current talent, is part of this disconnect, the mess that the NCAA has found themself in,” said Pete Thamel, a senior college football writer for ESPN.

College sports leaders are hoping that the U.S. government can provide a strategy that will regulate compensation and protect the NCAA from state laws that undercut its authority, as the association is already in the midst of combatting another push to pay its athletes. Next month, the NCAA plans to ask a federal appeals court to block a lawsuit that seeks to have student athletes treated as employees who are paid for their time.

“Turning student-athletes into employees will have a sprawling, staggering and potentially catastrophic impact on college sports broadly,” said Baylor University President Linda Livingston, who also serves as chairperson of the NCAA’s board of governors. “We need Congress to affirm student-athletes’ unique relationship with their universities.”

Meanwhile, California’s latest push to alter the rules of college sports has been met with optimism over its chances of passing. Though similar bills have failed at the federal level, like the College Athlete Bill of Rights sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker, California’s recent history of being at the forefront of this movement could ultimately play a factor in advancing this legislation.

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