California has defied US college sports’ governing body, the NCAA, after the state’s governor signed a law on Monday that will let college athletes hire agents and make money from endorsements. The move could upend amateur sports in America and trigger a legal challenge.
Under the law, which takes effect in 2023, students at public and private universities in the state will be allowed to sign deals with sportswear firms, soft-drink makers or other businesses and profit from their images, names or likenesses, as professional athletes do.
“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 institutions,” California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, said on a show hosted by NBA superstar LeBron James. “Now we’re rebalancing that power arrangement.” He predicted other states will introduce similar legislation.
The new law bans colleges from kicking athletes off the team if they get paid. It does not apply to community colleges and bars athletes from accepting endorsement deals that conflict with their schools’ existing contracts.
The NCAA had asked Newsom to veto the bill, saying it “would erase the critical distinction between college and professional athletes.” The board also warned that the law would give California universities an unfair recruiting advantage, which could prompt the NCAA to bar them from competition. Powerhouse programs with rich sporting histories such as the University of Southern California, the University of California, Los Angeles, Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, could find themselves barred. But while the NCAA is the top governing body for college sports, membership is voluntary. If the California schools are forced out, they could form a new league.
Professional athletes have endorsed the law, including NBA superstar James, whose 14-year-old son is a closely watched basketball prospect in Los Angeles and will be 18 when the measure takes effect.
On social media, James celebrated the signing of the law, saying it will “change the lives for countless athletes who deserve it!” He added: “NCAA, you got the next move. We can solve this for everyone!
California senator Nancy Skinner, the bill’s author, said the measure lets athletes share in the wealth they create. “For decades, college sports has generated billions for all involved except the very people most responsible for creating the wealth. That’s wrong,” she said.
The NCAA has steadfastly refused to pay players in most cases. But a committee is studying other ways players could make money. Its report is expected in October.
The NCAA does let some athletes accept money in some instances. Tennis players can accept up to $10,000 in prize money per year, and Olympians can accept winnings from their competitions. Plus, schools in the big “Power 5” conferences can paplayers yearly cost-of-living stipends of between $2,000 and $4,000.
The NCAA reported $1.1bn in revenue in 2017.