What California’s ‘Fair Play’ Law Means for the Dons

Not often does one hear Tim Tebow and LeBron James speak out about a bill in the California State Legislature. This month, however, has been one of those times.

Senate Bill 206 (SB 206) passed the state Assembly on Sept. 9 and the state Senate by a vote of 39-0 two days later. It has been sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk, where he has 30 days to sign the bill into law, veto it, or let it go into law without his signature. But why does SB 206 matter?

What is it?

If signed, SB 206 would allow college athletes in the state of California to be paid for their name, their image, or likeness. It would change the laws surrounding sports agents in the state, allowing college athletes to hire an agent to represent them in contractual negotiations.

Both of these topics are significant, because the NCAA laws do not allow athletes to be paid in any way, or let athletes have an agent.

The law would go into effect in January 2023.

Will athletes get paid to play?

No. The law does not allow athletes to be paid to actually play or otherwise participate in their sport, but it does allow athletes to be paid for their likeness, image, or name when “not engaged in official team activities.” The law does not specifically state what constitutes official team activities, but it would likely mean that a player cannot profit off of their image if said image is one of them playing a game or participating in practice.

The NCAA laws have been in place for so long that we do not know exactly what it looks like when a college athlete profits off their likeness, but we can use pro athletes as a model. College athletes would be able to enter into endorsement deals, sell their autographs, and so on.

Does this give Dons Dollars a whole new meaning?

Good one, but no. SB 206 stipulates that it only applies to programs that make an average of $10 million a year in media distribution rights (TV deals, streaming, etc.). While the official Dons Athletics operating budget is not publicly available, it can be inferred with near certainty that USF does not bring in that much money in media rights annually. In fact, the vast majority of schools in California will not be directly impacted by this.

A Foghorn investigation of financial disclosures from some of the largest athletics programs in the state of California determined that SB 206 would likely only apply to four programs: the University of Southern California Trojans, the UCLA Bruins, the Stanford Cardinal, and the UC Berkeley Golden Bears. Every other athletic program (including the Dons) likely falls below the threshold required to be within the purview of SB 206.

So this will not affect the Dons at all?

Not exactly. The concern raised by the NCAA Board of Gov. and many other detractors is that the schools whose athletes are allowed to make a profit will suddenly have a significant recruiting advantage. While that is almost certainly true, there are other perspectives.

Other schools would likely push their respective legislatures to pass similar bills to remain competitive. Across the NCAA, there are also only a handful of schools which bring in more than $10 million per year in media rights, likely no more than 50 or so. These schools already are extremely competitive recruiting destinations, so the change in recruiting dynamics would likely be less significant than what is feared by some of those who are calling foul.

Dons Athletics declined to give an official comment on the record about SB 206.

So is this, like, a done deal?

Not necessarily. At the time of publishing, Gov. Newsom has not yet signed SB 206 into law. The NCAA Board of Governors has sent Newsom an open letter urging him not to sign the bill, arguing that it is a disservice to student-athletes everywhere, violates the NCAA’s spirit of amateur competition, and may even be unconstitutional.

If Newsom does veto the bill, his veto would likely be overruled by the state senate and SB 206 would go into law. If (and probably when) SB 206 goes into law, the NCAA will likely sue the state of California. Whatever the outcome, the loser in the case would likely appeal until the case reaches the U.S. Supreme Court in the coming years. The NCAA lost a case last year in the U.S. Supreme Court, but it is difficult to predict how the bench would vote this time around.


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