On Monday night, the California state assembly voted 72-0 in favor of a bill that could make it possible for college athletes in the state to make money from their names, images or likenesses.
The Fair Pay To Play Act, first proposed by state Sen. Nancy Skinner, is potentially the biggest, most consequential domino to fall in a decadeslong battle between the NCAA and advocates who want to see college athletes receive more compensation for all of the money they help generate. The bill isn't yet a law, and a lot might change before it goes into effect, but it's far enough along to start sorting through the implications of what this bill might mean for college athletes and what is coming next. Here's a simple guide to get you up to speed:
Who would be paying California's college athletes?
The bill does not suggest schools should be responsible for giving any more money to their athletes than they already do. Nor does it guarantee that every student-athlete would be able to make more. It provides an opportunity for them to profit by selling the use of their name, image or likeness (NIL) to outside bidders.
Athletes currently are required to sign away the rights to use their own NIL to make money when they start playing a college sport. This bill would make it illegal for colleges to take away a player's scholarship or eligibility as punishment for accepting endorsements. So, in the future, a star quarterback at USC might be able to sign an apparel deal with Nike or star in a McDonald's commercial. The bill also allows for things like a Stanford swimmer advertising that she is teaching swimming lessons or an entertaining athlete to collect advertising revenue for starring on his own YouTube channel.
When could they start to cash in?
The bill, if passed, will not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2023. That means virtually no college athletes currently on campus would be able to take advantage of the proposed law as it's currently written.
How does the NCAA feel about all this?
It's not a big fan. The NCAA, and its member schools in California, has opposed the bill publicly and in behind-closed-doors lobbying sessions. NCAA President Mark Emmert wrote a letter to California lawmakers in June asking them for more time to consider possible changes to its current policies regarding NIL rights.
The association's board of governors followed up with another letter in September saying that the proposed law was harmful, unconstitutional and would "upend the balance" of competitive national college sports. Their letter made it clear that the NCAA would not allow California colleges to participate in NCAA competitions if they followed the state's law starting in 2023. The chair of that board, Ohio State president Michael Drake, told ESPN that he believes the NCAA's rules need to "evolve forward" on a national scale, rather than state by state, and that the NCAA should be the group deciding the best way to make those changes instead of legislators.
Are California schools going to be kicked out of the NCAA?
If the bill is passed and the NCAA doesn't change its rules before 2023, there could be a standoff between California and the NCAA that would likely be decided in court. In that scenario, California's laws would make it illegal for schools in the state to follow NCAA rules.
However, politicians and athletic directors in California both think it's unlikely that the conflict will ever reach that point. There are several other dominoes that could fall in the next three years that would affect the future of the NCAA's NIL rules.
What are some of those possible changes?
The NCAA has assembled a group of university presidents, conference commissioners and athletic directors to study the possibility of adjusting its rules to fit better with the modern market demand for college athletes. That group, which is scheduled to report its conclusion sometime in October, said any changes in how players can make money would have to remain tied to education in some way.
Skinner and the other sponsors of the bill are hoping that this is a first step for national change. They believe other states will see the recruiting advantage this proposed law would give California schools and adjust their laws to compete. Washington, Colorado, Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina have already started exploring similar options.
There is also a federal proposal that would have a similar effect nationwide. Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., has suggested changing the tax code in a way that would force the NCAA to choose between giving athletes their NIL rights back or losing its tax-exempt nonprofit status.
Who is Nancy Skinner and why does she care about paying college athletes?
Skinner is a state senator representing a district that includes Berkeley -- the home of the Cal Golden Bears. While a graduate student at Cal, Skinner was part of an effort to organize graduate assistant teachers to ask for better benefits. She also attended lectures led by Dr. Harry Edwards, an outspoken advocate for black athletes who has long considered the NCAA's amateur rules a method of exploitation.
Skinner says she sees her bill as a way to correct a civil rights issue and unfair labor practices that affect all college athletes regardless of their race. Skinner co-wrote the bill with fellow senator Steven Bradford and with the help of several economists and activists who have been working on this issue for nearly 20 years.
Who else cares about this?
The bill has received support from some high-profile people in the worlds of sports and politics recently. LeBron James shared his support in a tweet last week. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders echoed James' message shortly thereafter.
What happens next?
The bill now goes back to the California Senate. The Senate passed an earlier version of the bill (with a 31-5 vote) in May but has to give its approval again because the bill was amended on its way through the assembly. If the Senate passes the bill, it will go to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has 30 days to decide whether he will sign it into law.