By: Christina Pici, Staff Writer
California’s Fair Pay to Play Act, scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2023, will make it illegal for California colleges and universities to deny their student athletes the ability to hire agents or gain any form of compensation for the use of their individual name, image and/or likeness. This Act directly contradicts the historical practice of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) which limits compensation through their amateurism rules. With this act set to become law, longstanding arguments are making headlines once again, with the focus on whether athletes should benefit from their own name, image, and likeness while in college or if the NCAA can solely absorb the earnings associated with these athletes.
The NCAA rules determine which athletes meet the eligibility requirements to play for their respective universities. The NCAA does not allow athletes to receive compensation that exceeds what the NCAA has deemed as “actual and necessary expenses.” Athletes are also not allowed to receive “appearance fees” or endorse commercial products or services if they are being paid in any way to support a specific brand. These rules, moreover, tend to limit player compensation to tuition, room, board, and small cost-of-living expenses.
One of the NCAA’s arguments against paying student athletes is that maintaining amateurism is crucial to preserving an academic environment in which acquiring a quality education is the first priority. This argument rests on the NCAA’s assertion that paychecks and opportunities to do endorsements or sign autographs would distract players from their education. Another argument is that compensation may erode the value of an athlete’s association with a specific college or university. In an opinion editorial for The New Yorker, Ekow N. Yankah offers a hypothetical example of this argument: “If a high-school football prodigy reported that he chose Michigan not for its academic quality, tradition, or beautiful campus but because it outbid all other suitors, a connection to the university’s values would be lost.” Additionally, the NCAA fears that after one successful year in a specific sport, players will seek to transfer to another institution, solely because they will be paid more than the previous college or university they attended. This extends the issue of compensating athletes to include the decision-making effects of transfer-athletes, redshirts, and recruits.
One of the main arguments in favor of NCAA athlete compensation for their name, image, and likeness outside of college scholarships is based on fair market value analysis. Based on research performed by writers at Business Insider, “The fair market value for the average Football Bowl Subdivision football player is $137,357 per year, and the fair market value for the average men’s basketball player is $289,031 per year.”  With this said, not every NCAA athlete has a fair market value in the range of hundreds of thousands of dollars. However, an athlete may still financially benefit from signing autographs, sponsoring local businesses, or being featured in an NCAA video game. Lastly, California’s Fair Pay to Play Act was inspired partly by Ed O’Bannon, a former NBA and UCLA basketball player, who proved that by denying men’s basketball and football players the commercial value of their identities, the NCAA violated federal antitrust law.
Despite the valid arguments in favor of California’s Fair Pay to Play Act, Mark Emmert, the president of the NCAA, has argued that if California colleges and universities allow college athletes to make money, they would have an unfair advantage over schools in other states. Therefore, these California schools would be barred from competing in NCAA championships. However, legislators in other states, such as New York, Florida, and Illinois, have already proposed similar legislation to that of California, so change across the nation may be coming soon.