Bill to allow athletes to profit from name advances

A California bill that would make it possible for a college athlete to profit from the use of his or her name, images and likeness passed another subcommittee hurdle in the legislative process Tuesday afternoon.

The state assembly's Committee on Higher Education voted 9-0 to move the bill forward, and chairman Jose Medina called the NCAA's threats and requests to slow down the legislative process during the past couple months "akin to bullying."

"I don't take too fondly to threats to the state of California regardless of where they come from," Medina told ESPN on Tuesday evening.

The Fair Pay to Play Act, which was introduced in February by state Sens. Nancy Skinner and Steven Bradford, would prohibit schools in California from taking away scholarships or eligibility from college athletes who use their notoriety to make money. The proposal also allows for athletes to hire an agent or attorney to represent them in business deals without losing their eligibility. Skinner explained that it would not require schools to pay its players, but instead guarantee players the same rights given to Olympic athletes. The law, if it is passed, would not go into effect until January 2023.

NCAA president Mark Emmert wrote a letter to California legislators in May asking that they consider delaying their vote while his organization considered the impact of the law. The NCAA formed a working group in May to examine issues with its current rules, which prevent any student-athletes from marketing their own names, images or likenesses. Emmert said in his letter that if California passes the bill its universities would be violating the organization's bylaws and therefore might not be allowed to participate in NCAA-sanctioned championship events.

The NCAA working group is expected to provide an initial report of its findings in August and a final report in October. California's legislature adjourns for a summer recess at the end of this week and is unlikely to vote on the bill until it returns to session in mid-August. If the bill passes through the appropriations committee and the assemblywide vote, it would next move to the governor's office to be signed into law.

Skinner said Tuesday that California legislators had heard other "Armageddon threats" in response to past legislation and were undeterred by them.

She was joined at the meeting by Los Angeles Chargers offensive lineman Russell Okung among other advocates for the bill. Okung told the committee the NCAA's treatment of athletes was exploitative, oppressive and analogous to how prisoners are treated -- provided room and board and allowed to work without a chance to be paid fair market value for their services.

"Why does a free-market system work for everyone but the student athlete?" Okung asked. "It's about basic civil liberties and repressive measures that still exist today."

Opponents of the bill urged the committee to halt the process to give the NCAA time to explore potentially negative unintended consequences. Long Beach State athletic director Andy Fee attended the committee meeting to say he did not oppose having a conversation about how athletes should be allowed to capitalize on their marketability, but he questioned the need to pass a bill immediately.

He raised the scenarios of athletes accepting endorsements from casinos (giving the gambling industry a foothold in college sports) or marijuana products (a substance banned by the NCAA and illegal under federal law) as potential issues that should be considered. He also said the threat of not being able to compete in championship in the future could negatively affect coaches trying to recruit athletes.

"Where are the protections that prevent these things from happening? That's why I urge a pause," Fee said. "This is a good conversation. It's the mechanism I oppose."

Skinner countered that the law is delayed from going into effect for more than three years in an effort to allow the NCAA an opportunity to sort through some of those issues. She also said the language of the bill allows for the legislature to reconsider if the NCAA passes some type of substantial rule changes to help athletes pursue their fair market value.

Assemblyman Jim Patterson, the one committee member present who abstained from voting, said it felt like the state was "playing a game of chicken with the NCAA and establishing a rule that puts the state outside the NCAA." Skinner and others in support of the bill said the NCAA has had long enough to consider these matters on their own and needed the pressure of legal action to be held accountable.