How Will California’s Fair Pay to Play Act Impact College Athletics?

How will California’s Fair Pay to Play Act impact college athletics?


College athletics are sparking more than the usual amount of contention these days—and we’re not just talking friendly team rivalries. 


Following the passage of a controversial piece of California legislation, the conversation among fans about the extent to which college athletes should be compensated for their efforts has become louder and more divisive. Some view college athletics purely as extracurricular activities. Others point to the extensive revenue that top college teams generate—and how little the athletes receive in comparison.


In an effort to address long-standing concerns about athlete pay, California Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed State Bill 206—otherwise known as the Fair Pay to Play Act—into law. While the new legislation will not take effect until 2023, it is bound to influence college athletics across the nation.


What Is the Fair Pay to Play Act?

At its most basic level, the Fair Pay to Play Act allows college athletes to seek compensation beyond typical scholarships. 


While still not paid directly for games and competitions, college athletes can now hire agents and seek lucrative endorsements. For example, video game publishers will finally be permitted to pay college athletes to include their likenesses in games. Likewise, student athletes will be able to sign contracts with clothing companies, youth camps, and a variety of other organizations.

What Does It Mean for College Athletics?

Endorsements under the new law may be limited based on the school’s existing contracts. For example, colleges that promote Adidas’s shoes cannot be forced to allow student athletes to seek endorsements from competitors such as Nike. Still, college athletes will enjoy more opportunities to be paid for their name.


As might be expected, California’s legislation has sparked heated debate in the sports community. Former college quarterback Tim Tebow has expressed concern that the law will disrupt the camaraderie between teammates that “makes college sports special.” Basketball star Lebron James, on the other hand, has been a vocal supporter of the measure, saying the move to pay college athletes is long overdue.


Will Other States Follow Suit?

Given the popularity of the Fair Pay to Play Act in the California Senate and Assembly, several other states are already considering the possibility of moving forward with similar laws. 


New York State Senator Kevin Parker, for example, has proposed a law that looks similar to the California legislation but also encourages colleges to establish funds to pay out to student athletes who suffer career-ending injuries. Likewise, South Carolina State Senator Marlon Kimpson and Representative Justin Bamberg hope to propose similar legislation.


Can the Fair Pay to Play Act Sustain Potential NCAA Challenges?

The NCAA has proven highly critical of the new legislation. In an especially notable statement, the league claimed that the law would “make unattainable the goal of providing a fair and level playing field.”


NCAA President Mark Emmert believes that the new law will draw attention away from sports other than basketball and football, which are believed to already claim a disproportionate share of the public’s attention. Additionally, Emmert and other key figures at the NCAA expect that the law will deliver major regional imbalances, with athletes bound to show greater interest in California colleges.


Threats to ban California schools from NCAA championships have emerged since the passage of the bill. Experts, however, do not believe that the NCAA will actually follow through on such threats. Utah Valley University’s Rod Smith tells the Salt Lake Tribune that California schools are too likely to join with colleges from other states and that together, these schools could form competing athletic associations.


The NCAA Board of Governors recently proposed that a group of representatives extensively study the issues brought about by the “recently proposed federal and state legislation related to student-athlete name, image, and likeness.” Depending on proposed changes that arise from this effort, California’s Fair Pay to Play Act could be rendered inconsequential. Still, the legislation deserves credit for sparking such discussion at the NCAA level.


Key Takeaways

No matter how the NCAA ultimately responds to the Fair Pay to Play Act, it’s clear that change is afoot in college athletics. While contention among state governments and the NCAA is likely to continue, it remains to be seen whether such divides will throw college sports as we know them into a tailspin.