California Governor Gavin Newsom has signed what could prove to be a piece of ground-breaking legislation in the shape of the Fair Pay to Play Act (SB 206). Drawn up by Senators Nancy Skinner and Steven Bradford, it gives college student athletes in California the ability to benefit financially from their name, image and likeness.

Currently, student athletes are barred by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) from earning compensation from their association with college sports even though their respective college or university can make millions from their athletic performance. 

That participation, according to Newsom, often comes at great risk to students’ health, academic success, and professional prospects. Nationwide, colleges and universities make $14bn each year from student athletics and the NCAA takes in $1bn annually.

The bill, which passed the California Legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support, becomes the first law of its kind in the nation to allow college student athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness.

The Governor signed the bill during a special episode of UNINTERRUPTED’s The Shop, alongside the bill’s co-sponsor Senator Skinner, LeBron James, UNINTERRUPTED’s CEO Maverick Carter, UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi, WNBA star Diana Taurasi, former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon and Rich Paul.

“This is the beginning of a national movement – one that transcends geographic and partisan lines,” said Governor Newsom. “Collegiate student athletes put everything on the line – their physical health, future career prospects and years of their lives to compete. Colleges reap billions from these student athletes’ sacrifices and success but, in the same breath, block them from earning a single dollar. That’s a bankrupt model – one that puts institutions ahead of the students they are supposed to serve. It needs to be disrupted.”

Senator Skinner welcomed the sign off, saying: “This is truly a historic moment for college athletes. Governor Newsom once again shows why he is a national trailblazer. Signing SB 206 makes California the first state to restore to student athletes a right everyone else has: the right to earn money from their name, image, and likeness. Thank you, Governor Newsom, and your staff, for this groundbreaking achievement.”

Senator Bradford added: “While our student athletes struggle to get by with basic necessities such as food and clothing, Universities and the NCAA make millions off of their talent and labor. College coaches are now some of the highest paid employees in the country because of the talented young men and women who play for them.

“SB 206 addresses this civil rights issue of today, which is about fairness and equity. Our colleges and universities should no longer treat student athletes as chattel, but as the valued individuals they are. This measure will afford them the right to control their name, likeness and image. It is only right and long overdue.”

Offering an athlete’s perspective, LeBron James said: “This is a game changer for student athletes and for equity in sports. Athletes at every level deserve to be empowered and to be fairly compensated for their work, especially in a system where so many are profiting off of their talents. Part of the reason I went to the NBA was to get my mom out of the situation she was in. I couldn’t have done that in college with the current rules in place. This bill will help students athletes who are in a similar situation.”

Effective January 1, 2023, the Fair Pay to Play Act will allow all student athletes enrolled in public and private four-year colleges and universities in California to earn money from their name, image, or likeness. Student athletes will also be able to hire sports agents, and not lose their scholarships if they receive income for their work. 

Further, SB 206 prohibits California colleges from enforcing NCAA rules that prevent student athletes from earning compensation, and will prevent the NCAA from banning California universities from intercollegiate sports if their athletes sign sponsorship deals.