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California’s governor paves path allowing college athletes to monetize their identities

Governor of California Gavin Newsom looks on during a basketball game

(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

In a landmark decision which ultimately could change the business model for collegiate sports, California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday signed into law the Fair Play Act which essentially prohibits his state from punishing athletes should they decide to collect endorsement money.

Should the legislation survive likely objections from the NCAA, beginning in 2023 any athlete whose image or uniform number are used by schools or organizations seeking to monetize them will be allowed to make their own profit.

And we say it’s about time.

Of course, this is the last thing the NCAA wants to happen. And it’s immediate reaction to Newsom’s signature was to pledge to continue to stick by its guns.

“We will consider next steps in California while our members move forward with ongoing efforts to make adjustments to NCAA name, image and likeness rules that are both realistic in modern society and tied to higher education,” the NCAA said in a statement. “As more states consider their own specific legislation related to this topic, 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.”

For too long, athletes have been taken advantage of by colleges and universities that make money off their backs. And to those who say athletes are fairly compensated by the cost of their tuitions, we counter those costs are minuscule compared to the millions their schools – and coaches – make during their time on campus.

For years, debate has raged about whether college athletes are entitled to be paid, and if so, how such compensation should be arranged. This new law does not address the pay-for-play conversation. But it hits square center on the other important issue of allowing athletes to share in the profits made off their identities.

Athletes would not be paid as employees. That would become far too unwieldy a proposition. But what it does – and it’s about time – is make it illegal for universities to prohibit athletes from selling the rights to their image, name, etc., to outside contractors. It also allows athletes to retain agents to help them in this process.

The bill Newsom signed has been massaged a number of times. For instance, athletes will not be allowed to sign endorsement deals that conflict with university sponsors. For instance, a Kansas athlete would not be able to sign with Nike since the Jayhawks work with Adidas.

The NCAA begged California not to pass this legislation. In fact, NCAA president Mark Emmert referred to it as an “existential threat” in an interview with CBS Sports. The NCAA would rather craft its own legislation than be dictated to.

The NCAA has pledged to be open-minded about it. It’s already looking at ways to modernize its bylaws and a group charged with studying the issue is due to make a report at some point this month.

The concerns of coaches like Arizona State football coach Herm Edwards are much different. They argue that whatever rules are created to address the issue be universal in nature and not limited to California. The fear is the California schools would then have an unfair recruiting advantage because they could offer their student-athletes to added income option.

“I would think that they would have to give it to the [entire] Pac-12,” Edwards told ESPN. “You would hope it’s not just the state of California with that policy.”

The Pac-12 released a statement Monday expressing disappointment at the bill’s passage since it maintains it “will have very significant negative consequences for our student-athletes and broader universities in California.”

Ironically, some schools in California actually believe the law will leave them at a disadvantage in recruiting since the NCAA has threatened to ban state teams from taking part in NCAA competitions if rules don’t change across the nation by 2023.

If this goes through, imagine the upside for players who could make money from apparel deals, television commercials and autograph signings. The New York Times even suggests that lesser athletes could monetize their status by teaching or coaching younger athletes or selling advertising on their media accounts.

“Obviously I was fortunate enough and talented enough to be able to skip college,” said Lebron James. “But for sure, I would have been one of those kids if I would have went off to Ohio State or if I would have went off to any one of these big-time colleges where pretty much that 23 jersey would have got sold all over the place — without my name on the back, but everybody would have known the likeness. My body would have been on the NCAA basketball game 2004, and the Schottenstein Center would have been sold out every single night if I was there.

“And coming from just me and my mom, we didn’t have anything, and we wouldn’t have been able to benefit at all from it, and the university would have been able to capitalize on everything that I would have been there for that year or two or whatever. So I understand what those kids are going through. I feel for those kids that have been going through it for so long.”

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(Photo by: Jeff Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The bill does have its prominent detractors, including Tim Tebow who has suggested it would encourage selfishness on teams. The University of California, Stanford and Southern California argued against it.

Newsom told the New York Times that he law is “a big move to expose the farce and to challenge a system that is outsized in its capacity to push back.”

“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,” Newsom said. “The only group that can’t are athletes. Why is that?”

If it survives any legal battles, schools and the N.C.A.A. will not be allowed to keep students from participating in sports if paid for the use of their names in any venue or circumstance.

“People are just so aware of the fact that you’ve got a multibillion-dollar industry that — let’s set aside scholarships — basically denies compensation to the very talent, the very work that produces that revenue,” Senator Nancy Skinner, who wrote the legislation, told the New York Times. “Students who love their sport and are committed to continuing their sport in college are handicapped in so many

Fun fact: Newsom signed the bill during an episode of a television show hosted by James.

“NCAA, you got the next move,” said James. “We can solve this for everyone!”