By Matthew Romano
The following article appeared in the November 2019 edition of The Campus.
It’s just after spooky szn and there is a history-making development regarding a longstanding dispute over paying college athletes that has ghosts of the NCAA’s past out on the haunt, advocates for the NCAA’s traditional ‘amateurism’ model spooked, and what is likely to be a 4-year legal battle brewing.
On September 30th, California’s Democratic Governor, Gavin Newsom, with much theatrics and fanfare, signed the Fair Pay for Play Act (SB 206).Sitting alongside the governor as he warned the NCAA, “I don’t want to say this is checkmate but…” was LeBron James, Ed O’Bannon, and many other players in the fight for student athlete compensation.
The Fair Pay for Play Act, which is anticipated to be enacted in 2023 pending its survival in litigation battles, will make California the first state in the country where student athletes are eligible for compensation for the use of their name, image, and likeness (termed NIL rights) in endorsements and commercials.
Though Newsom and LeBron’s will get the majority of attention and credit for the act, there are 2 other important people behind the production of monumental moment in the history of college athletics.
Ed O’Bannon – The writing on the wall
Ed O’Bannon, a former UCLA power forward, is known as the lead plaintiff in his class action suit O’Bannon v. NCAA. This case, despite failing to achieve NIL compensation, allowed players to receive scholarships equaling cost-of-attendance, marking a significant shift in court bullish opinions on the issue of amateurism, player compensation, and the relation of antitrust law to the NCAA over the previous 30 years. The writing was on the wall for the eventual “Ed O’Bannon laws” as they are being coined, of which SB 206 became the first.
Nancy Skinner – the woman behind the win, the war.
In 2015, Nancy Skinner set her attention towards the NCAA, a “multibillion-dollar enterprise dependent on amateur athletes.” Now in the State Senate for California’s 9th district, Skinner co-wrote the 2019 bill securing NIL rights and an attached monetary value, which passed the Assembly and Senate floors with bipartisan support and the approval of notable figures in sports and politics like, LeBron James, Bernie Sanders, and Duke Men’s Basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski.
Despite the success of Skinner, Newsom, and their star-studded supports, the fight continues. Sadaab Rahman, a political science major at City College, commented, “The battles are far from over yet, and actually just beginning.” Yet, the most interesting stories to follow in this ongoing tussle might not occur on gym floors, but in the senate and courtrooms.
In the wake of the act’s signing, politicians across the table and around the nation are scrambling to propose similar or more extensive bills. According to Matt Norlander of CBS Sports.com, as many as ten other states, including New York, are in the bill proposing process.
On the flipside, the NCAA and the PAC-12 are expected to respond with counter-litigation in the hopes of overturning the California law. The NCAA has responded with a statement highlighting the confusion that state-by-state legislation will cause. Rahman, who concurs with the concern, warns, “…while this may seem like a good thing, I actually think it will complicate matters tremendously. The reason being, when you have different state laws, it becomes hard, if not impossible, to create a nationwide standard which the NCAA wants under the Commerce Clause.”
The PAC-12 conference warns of the negative effects the law will create around issues of the professionalization of college sports, recruitment imbalance, and negative impact on female athletes. Additionally, the new law has prompted the NCAA to threaten to ban California universities from championship competitions. However, the legitimacy of the threat is questionable as California makes up the NCAA’s largest economic beneficiary and has the world’s fifth-largest economy. All signs point to federal action unless the NCAA and the PAC-12 can manage to eke out a now unexpected win and overturn the new California law.
Some find themselves in support of the players in this dispute; Rahman has said, “I think it’s a game changer for college sports and long overdue… but there is sure to be opposition from those who don’t want to see young men and women benefit from a system that has long profited off them and their situation.” However, others like Eric Bilach fear, “The selfishness and self-importance that could be cultivated among young players, the prioritization of athletics over academics, and the killing of the distinction between amateur and professional sports.”
The battle may have commenced at the tip of Newsom’s pen, but the side that wins the war is still to be determined.