Can Student Athletes in College Make Money? The Saga Continues

18 Sep, 2019

By: Michael Popke

When the California State Assembly unanimously passed a bill in early September that would make it easier for college athletes to make money off their own name, image and likeness, the NCAA fired off a letter to California Gov. Gavin Newsom alleging the so-called Fair Pay to Play Act as “unconstitutional.”

The letter, dated Sept. 11, made clear where the NCAA stands on California Senate Bill 206 and claimed the bill would wipe out the distinction between college and professional athletics.

“If the bill becomes law and California’s 58 NCAA schools are compelled to allow an unrestricted name, image and likeness scheme, it … gives those schools an unfair recruiting advantage [and] would result in them eventually being unable to compete in NCAA competitions. These outcomes are untenable and would negatively impact more than 24,000 California student-athletes across three divisions,” stated the letter, signed by the 22 members of the NCAA’s Board of Commissioners. “Right now, nearly half a million student-athletes in all 50 states compete under the same rules. This bill would remove that essential element of fairness and equal treatment that forms the bedrock of college sports.”

If Newsom signs the Fair Pay to Play Act, a version of which has already cleared the California Senate, it would take effect Jan. 1, 2023.

In its letter, the NCAA ‘s Board of Commissioners went on to explain that member schools “already are working on changing rules for all student-athletes to appropriately use their name, image and likeness in accordance with our values — but not pay them to play.”

Throughout its history, the NCAA has maintained that student-athletes are students first and should be not be considered employees of the college or university.

“It isn’t possible to resolve the challenges of today’s college sports environment in this way — by one state taking unilateral action. With more than 1,100 schools and nearly 500,000 student-athletes across the nation, the rules and policies of college sports must be established through the Association’s collaborative governance system. A national model of collegiate sport requires mutually agreed upon rules,” the letter concluded. “We urge the state of California to reconsider this harmful and, we believe, unconstitutional bill and hope the state will be a constructive partner in our efforts to develop a fair name, image and likeness approach for all 50 states.”

It’s noteworthy that, as The New York Times reports, not all California institutions of higher education are in favor of the Fair Pay to Play Act, including the University of California and California State University systems, as well as prominent private colleges like Stanford and the University of Southern California.

“Numerous legal scholars assert that SB 206 is constitutional and that an NCAA ban of California colleges from championship competition is a clear violation of federal anti-trust law,” California Sen. Nancy Skinner, who proposed the bill, said in a statement responding to the NCAA’s letter. “The NCAA has repeatedly lost anti-trust cases in courts throughout the nation. As a result, threats are their primary weapon.”

Skinner added the NCAA needs legislative pressure to be prompted to act and hopes that California’s bill will be the first step in forcing a national change in how college athletes are allowed to be compensated.

According to, several other states are considering similar laws. In North Carolina, for example, Congressman Mark Walker has proposed changing the federal tax code to force the NCAA to change its position on name, image and likeness use on a national scale.

Such developments have the potential to impact the sports travel economy at the collegiate level in multiple ways, and there’s no doubt the sports tourism industry will be keeping a close eye on where this goes next.


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