SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Athletes at California colleges could hire agents and sign endorsement deals under a bill the state Legislature sent to the governor Wednesday, setting up a potential confrontation with the NCAA that could jeopardize the athletic futures of powerhouse programs like USC, UCLA and Stanford.
Gov. Gavin Newsom has not said whether he will sign the bill. But the NCAA Board Of Governors is already urging him not to, warning that if he does California colleges and universities would eventually be banned from NCAA competitions because of their “unfair recruiting advantage.”
“It would erase the critical distinction between college and professional athletics,” the Board of Governors said in a letter to Newsom. “These outcomes are untenable and would negatively impact more than 24,000 California student-athletes across three divisions.”
The state Assembly and Senate sent the bill to the governor without a dissenting vote in what Republican Assemblyman Kevin Kiley said was “a loud and clear message to the NCAA.” Several Republican senators noted they had planned to vote against the bill but changed their minds after listening to the debate and, in some cases, lobbying from their children.
Newsom has 30 days to either sign the bill, veto it or let it become law without his signature.
The NCAA believes the bill is unconstitutional because it violates the federal Commerce Clause, and would consider challenging the bill in court if it becomes law. But Democratic Sen. Nancy Skinner, who authored the bill, called that “a hollow threat.”
The bill would allow student-athletes to hire agents and be paid for the use of their names, images or likenesses. It would stop California universities and the NCAA from banning athletes that take the money. But it would forbid athletes from signing endorsement deals that conflict with their school’s existing contracts. If it becomes law, it would take effect Jan. 1, 2023.
Earlier this year, NCAA President Mark Emmert told lawmakers that passing the bill would be premature, noting the NCAA has a committee led by Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith and Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman that is exploring the issue. Their report is due in October.
The NCAA committee has already said it won’t endorse a plan to pay athletes as if they were employees, but the organization could ease limits on endorsement deals for athletes. The NCAA already lets athletes accept money in some instances. Tennis players can accept up to $10,000 in prize money, and Olympians can accept winnings from their competitions.