California bill would allow college athletes to earn money, take sponsorships

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Two California state senators have introduced a bill that seeks to level the playing field for college athletes by allowing them to sign sponsorship deals and receive other compensation, much like Olympic athletes are now allowed to do.

On Monday, Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) sat down with KTVU to explain her proposal, The Fair Pay to Play Act,” the first bill of its kind in the state. A similar bill is also being proposed by Rep. Drew Stokesbary, a Republican, in Washington state. 

The National Collegiate Athletic Association did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But both proposal in both California and Washington surely set up a battle with the NCAA, which has rules against college athletes receiving payments for endorsements or hiring agents.

But would the NCAA drop the schools from the PAC 10 if the athletes start taking money from Nike and the local hardware store?

“This bill is structured to affect all colleges in California, Stanford, UCLA and USC,” Skinner responded. “Is the NCAA really doing to drop every single college in California? No. They would lose billions."

Skinner said she co-authored this bill with state Sen. Steven Bradford ( D-Gardena) to lift collegiate athletes out of poverty. 

“For too long, college athletes have been exploited by a deeply unfair system. Universities and the NCAA make huge amounts of money from TV deals and corporate sponsorships of their teams,” Skinner said. “Athletic talent has value, and college athletes deserve to share in that value. The Fair Pay to Play Act allows athletes to finally be compensated for their hard work — work that generates billions of dollars for their schools, corporate sponsors and media networks.” 

Bradford, who used to be an athlete and coach, said this is "more than a sports issue. This is a civil rights issue about basic fairness."

In a statement, Brandford said that "for decades, young athletes have been generating billions of dollars for their colleges, universities, and corporate sponsors, but many are not only enduring the daily challenges as collegiate athletes, they are also struggling just to get by financially. It is time to right this historic wrong.” 

According to a 2012 study by the National College Players Association and the Drexel University Sports Management Program, the vast majority of full scholarship college athletes live at or below the poverty level in the United States. 

Under the bill, collegiate athletes at California’s 24 public and private colleges and universities that participate in Division 1 sports would be eligible to be paid directly from a private or commercial source for their name, image, and likeness. SB 206 would also make it unlawful for any organization to restrict these rights to collegiate athletes, and it would be unlawful to revoke a scholarship because of payment for name, likeness, or image. 

In addition, Skinner and Brandford want to add provisions to the legislation that would ban any organization from enforcing compensation thresholds including scholarships, monetary, and combination of the two, while allowing athletes to obtain legal representation including agents.

Finally, the bill would allow universities to opt-out of the act, although doing so would render those institutions less competitive in athlete recruitment.

KTVU's Lisa Fernandez contributed to this report.