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California will allow college athletes to profit from endorsements under bill signed by Newsom

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Photo Credit: Jerry Kelly

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a bill that will allow California athletes to earn money from the use of their names, images and likenesses, despite warnings from the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. that the measure would upend amateur sports.

Senate Bill 206 by Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) garnered national attention, with athletes including NBA stars LeBron James and Draymond Green lauding the California effort to give college athletes a share of the windfall they help create for their universities and NCAA. The bill passed the state Legislature unanimously.

Newsom signed the bill during an online-only episode of “The Shop,” a talk show from digital sports media company Uninterrupted that airs on HBO. The governor, appearing alongside James, the WNBA’s Diana Taurasi and former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon, said the new law addressed a “major problem for the NCAA.” The signing was recorded Friday but released Monday, according to Newsom’s office.

“It’s going to initiate dozens of other states to introduce similar legislation,” Newsom said on the show. “And it’s going to change college sports for the better by having now the interest finally of the athletes on par with the interests of the institution. Now we are rebalancing that power.”

Newsom, who played baseball at Santa Clara University, said in September that, having been a student athlete, he had “very strong opinions on this subject.”

On Monday, the NCAA said it was considering “next steps in California.”

The bill prohibits the NCAA from barring a university from competition if its athletes are compensated for the use of their name, image or likeness beginning in 2023. NCAA rules strictly prohibit athletes from profiting in any way from their sports.

While the bill allows athletes to sign endorsement deals with major companies, it could also open up smaller opportunities that were previously prohibited, such as paid youth coaching positions. SB 206 still forbids schools from directly paying athletes.

“This is a game changer for student athletes and for equity in sports,” said James, who has been a vocal supporter of the bill. “Athletes at every level deserve to be empowered and to be fairly compensated for their work, especially in a system where so many are profiting off of their talents. Part of the reason I went to the NBA was to get my mom out of the situation she was in. I couldn’t have done that in college with the current rules in place.”

The NCAA sent a letter to Newsom in September while lawmakers were mulling the bill, calling it “unconstitutional” and a “scheme.” The letter was signed by NCAA President Mark Emmert and 21 other members of the organization’s board of governors. The NCAA urged California to hold off on the bill to give a working group formed earlier this year more time to examine the name, image and likeness issue.

“Right now, nearly half a million student-athletes in all 50 states compete under the same rules,” the letter read. “This bill would remove that essential element of fairness and equal treatment that forms the bedrock of college sports.”

On Monday, the NCAA issued a less terse statement, expressing concerns about states creating their own rules for college athletes.

“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,” the NCAA said in the statement.

Skinner disputed assertions in the NCAA’s September letter, saying the sports association had resorted to threats because legal scholars had concluded her bill was on solid ground. Skinner said she hoped other states would pass similar legislation.

In September, a New York state senator introduced legislation similar to Skinner’s bill with the added provision that college athletic departments share 15% of annual revenue from ticket sales with student athletes.

“This is truly a historic moment for college athletes,” Skinner said.

Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA football player who is executive director of the National Collegiate Players Assn., praised the bill and urged the NCAA to “get on board or be plunged into irrelevance.”

“This is the beginning of the end of the second class citizenship NCAA sports imposes on college athletes,” said Huma, whose group advocates for college sports reform and co-sponsored the bill. “College athletes deserve the same economic rights and freedoms afforded to other students and citizens. We are now calling on other states to do the same and are taking steps to make sure it happens.”