California’s Fair Pay to Play Act Signed into Law. Now What?

In traditional Lebron James fashion as a major figure in important cultural moments, California Governor Gavin Nelson appeared on James’s produced show Uninterrupted to sign into law a controversial but necessary piece of legislation, which could have a seismic impact on collegiate sports as we know it.

The new law titled Fair Pay to Play Act will essentially enable college athletes to profit off of their likenesses, images, and names without repercussion from the NCAA. This law does not mandate that universities pay student-athletes, but rather that these students will have the ability to freely sign endorsement deals as well as hire licensed agents. While the law will not take effect until 2023, the Fair Pay to Play Act represents the first domino to drop in a long and uncertain future for the relationship between the NCAA and student-athletes throughout the country.

The Fair Pay to Play Act brings the discussion of college athletes to the forefront in a manner that can no longer be ignored by the NCAA and universities. In no uncertain terms this needed to happen as too little was being done by the governing body that supposedly has its student athletes best interest at heart. Although there are certainly arguments to be made concerning whether or not student athletes should be paid by the schools they attend, there is a much weaker argument against an individual’s ability to profit off of their own name and likeness.

The reasoning behind the rather late date for the new law to take effect is so that other states have the opportunity to discuss and draft legislation similar to that of California. After all, it would be naive to think that a single state could take on the entirety of the NCAA. California needs other states to get on board with this style of legislation, however there may be some discrepancies in how the law is written resulting in differences among states, which could have negative consequences for both the student-athletes and the universities.

On paper, the forms of compensation for student-athletes do not seem laborious to replicate on a state-bystate basis, but it is important to recognize that the Fair Pay to Play Act took years to come together in its current form undergoing multiple revisions in the process. Imagine fifty states having only three years to try to construct a law in a similar structure without undergoing some significant opposition. The NCAA addressed this exact concern stating,

“… 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 1,110 campuses and nearly half a million student-athletes nationwide.”

The NCAA are not wrong in their assessment as it is easy to envision discrepancies in the laws that could alter where, how, and why student-athletes will determine to go to school. Theoretically there could be instances where a high school prospect must now weigh how profitable their “brand” may become based on where they go to college due to a difference not only in the state’s law but also in opportunities. That is a difficult decision for an 18 year old student to make regardless of the guidance by a licensed agent.

Perhaps the true impact coming from Governor Newsom’s signing of the Fair Pay to Play Act is that it will ultimately force the NCAA to take matters into their own hands. If not, the entire situation can get out of control quickly. The NCAA’s stagnation on the payment of student-athletes has brought us to this point, and there are valid concerns that the NCAA will try to challenge the Fair Pay to Play Act.

Money is at the heart of the issue for the NCAA. Some third party companies may simply bypass the university and approach the student-athlete directly for endorsement deals, which will come at a cheaper cost. As a result, the bargaining power of universities becomes waker conceivably costing them millions of dollars. The NCAA has no financial incentive to look after its own students. Student-athletes could receive compensation from the video game industry in the likely revival of collegiate sports franchises. These among other prospects could lead to a possible players association to Look after the rights of the players, which could effectively nullify the impact of the NCAA.

There is going to be an arduous road ahead for the Fair Pay to Play Act. As reported by other sources, there are ways for the federal government to deem such an act unlawful. With the power that the NCAA holds it is conceivable to imagine a future where the Fair Pay to Play Act won’t see the light of day. Michael McCann of Sports Illustrated aptly pointed out that California colleges in NCAA conferences will be unable to participate in national championships by the NCAA. This law could lead to a fractured relationship between the NCAA and the schools themselves on top of the NCAA’s relationship with the student-athletes, which could create a whole host of other problems.

Simply put, while the signing of California’s Fair Pay to Play Act represents a imperative enforcement of student-athletes’ rights, without the assistance of the NCAA or overwhelming support by the remaining states, the future of the Fair Pay to Pay Act remains murky at best.


One thought on “California’s Fair Pay to Play Act Signed into Law. Now What?

  1. This is incredible. It’s a rare moment when student athletes can finally get compensation for their hard work. The real question is whether other states will be willing to pass similar legislation. California’s trend-setting legislature makes so many flock to the state’s beautiful shores. Now, star athletes will have so much more reason to play college ball in places like Stanford and UCLA. The only way to level the playing field is for other states to join the fray.


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