The recent California bill that allows college athletes to profit from their fame may be a game-changer in terms of intercollegiate athletics and how the NCAA does business. Signed into law on Monday, it allows amateur athletes to be paid for use of their name, image or likeness.
The law is also gaining traction. Close to home, U.S. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, a Republican from Rocky River, Ohio, and former Ohio State wide receiver, is among those who back the concept and has introduced similar federal legislation.
The NCAA argues this law has California athletic programs playing under a different set of rules than collegiate teams in the other 49 states. For example, recruits could legally earn money by competing for California schools, a benefit that would not be available if they signed letters-of-intent with football programs such as Ohio State or Alabama. I cannot imagine Nick Saban supporting that any time soon. As a result, the NCAA has said they will have no choice but to remove all California schools from NCAA competition.
Although the NCAA has dealt with calls to pay athletes in the past, this is a rare occurrence where a state has called its bluff. And, while others may wither when drawing the ire of the NCAA, California may have the clout to stand its ground. The Golden State is unique in terms of its size, success, and expansiveness, in college sports. California is home to more than 20 NCAA Division I institutions with championship-level athletic programs in a range of sports.
UCLA is a college basketball blue-blood. USC and its host of Heisman Trophy winners holds the same rank in football circles. Further, Cal State-Fullerton is a big hitter in baseball, and every NCAA water polo championship, men’s and women’s, has been won by a California school. Overall, Stanford, USC, and UCLA have won the most NCAA championships across all sports. In short, lesser known sports would be affected by a ban on California schools, not just March Madness, and the football bowl season.
Also, the California legislation presents an issue that could irritate the NCAA on a more corporate level.
The Fair Pay to Play law does not limit the ways athletes could use their name, image, and likeness to earn money. Therefore, athletes on an NCAA field of play could strike sponsorship deals with casinos, internet gambling sites, marijuana dispensaries or other businesses the organization would prefer to not be associated with, and the NCAA would have no means to prevent this.
It is important to note the law does not go into effect for three years, which leaves time for negotiations. For now, both the NCAA and California are digging in their heels, and more states are considering similar measures. As it now stands, the NCAA will have to adjust to the California law and how it does business, or the state’s many NCAA-affiliated universities will be ineligible to compete under its banner. This seems unfathomable in the realm of collegiate sports.
Robert Carrothers teaches a class, “Sport in Modern Society” at Ohio Northern University. He admits to being a long-time Cleveland sports fan.