5 Takeaways from The Fair Pay to Play Act

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Matt Slocum / Associated Press
Photo Courtesy of Matt Slocum / Associated Press

If passed by the California Legislature, the Fair Pay to Play Act will allow student-athletes to hire an agent or attorney for their business deals, guarantee the same rights given to Olympic athletes, would prohibit schools in California from taking away scholarships or eligibility from college athletes who use their image and notoriety to make money, and would go into effect January 2023.

If passed, the NCAA, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which is the nonprofit organization that regulates student-athletes from 1,268 North American institutions and conferences might challenge the law and disallow California universities from participating in NCAA sports. 

However, a few important notes about the NCAA that you might not know.  Its substantial funding comes from the trademarks and television rights that it licenses and sells to broadcasters and merchandizers for March Madness and the College World Series.  It has no other significant additional source of revenue and even that funding is shared with the member institutions, e.g., the universities who make the tournament.  The College Football Playoff is not a part of the NCAA and is a separate entity. 

Member institutions have budgets that cover many other items besides sports, but since television rights for college sports has skyrocketed, the budgets for athletic departments has indeed grown. 

Currently, student-athletes may speak with attorneys and agents, but they cannot accept anything of value, in the very broad sense of the term value, and cannot sign a contract.  Student-athletes can see university certified/approved advisors, but nothing on the lines of what this Act would do to open the field for business. 

There are five takeaways from the potential passage of this Act. 

1. What about student-athletes in California and other states? 

As the NCAA as alluded to in their response to the prospective legislation, it could prevent California universities like UCLA, USC, Stanford, Cal, Pepperdine, Cal State Fullerton, Cal State Long Beach, and SDSU from participating in the College World Series and March Madness because the pay for play rules go against existing NCAA’s rules.  Unless the NCAA and the California legislature come to a compromise, the aforementioned is a likely outcome.  However, the NCAA might be wise to strongly consider the California legislation as a model for the Country because it removes the pressure on NCAA member institutions from having to pay and gives the student-athletes options, or better said, a choice, and it is based on market-value not some academic or court-ordered formula (e.g., the O’Bannon case).  It would also be great press for the NCAA should they support the Act, something it badly needs now. 

2. What about minor league player development? 

This is where the professional sports leagues, particularly the NFL can do more.  The NBA has the G-League, but the NFL does not currently have an established minor league system or player development outside of its draft from the NCAA member institutions every year.  California legislation cannot solve a business or perception problem of the NFL, but the Act does help relieve some financial pressure on the student-athletes.    

3. Does the Fair Pay to Play Act go far enough or too far?

Surprisingly in a state that looks to constantly push the envelope in terms of a one-party dominated legislature, this Act is very fair and business savvy.  The point that the NCAA and its member institutions or conferences (Pac-12, etc.) are not required to pay, but only allow student-athletes to profit from their image based on market value is an engaging and fair deal. 

4. Money is important, but representation is more significant

This may be the most important aspect of the legislation.  Having the ability to profit off of something is different than the ability to execute it.  Imagine a horse without a jockey.  A race car without a driver or pit crew and crew chief.  Student-athletes need and deserve representation and the fact that it has been, even if unofficially, denied to them is the biggest travesty.  People need good advice and having a good agent or attorney in their corner will open up possibilities and remove the need for a black or gray market of services and gifts. 

5. What is amateurism going forward?  

Amateurism is the stage before becoming professional, whether in sports or likely something else in the pursuit of life and happiness.  The Act will help prep the student-athletes before entering full-time employment, raising a family, etc.  It allows for profit, but the schools are not paying for it so the students keep their status.  Having representation will allow good advice and decision-making to take its proper course.  The Olympic-model is something that has worked and should work well for student-athletes at NCAA member institutions. 

As for the future, it is quite possible that “As California goes, so goes the Nation.” 

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