Two-and-a-half years after California Gov. Gavin Newsom upended the NCAA’s iron-fisted control over athlete compensation by signing the nation’s first intercollegiate name, image and likeness protections, the Golden State’s legislature will now consider passing a new pay-to-play bill designed to be the deathblow of amateurism.
On Wednesday, the California State Senate’s education committee is set to vote on SB-1401, the College Athlete Race and Gender Equity Act, which would not only permit but mandate universities to compensate their revenue-sport athletes.
SB-1401 was first introduced in February by state Sen. Steven Bradford, whose district includes the Los Angeles County communities of Compton, Watts and Inglewood, which have produced multitudes of Division I athletes over the years.
As initially drafted, the legislation would require California universities to set aside a portion of funds from their team sports that generate more than twice as much money as they spend on athletic scholarships, which would then be distributed in equal share to the sports’ participating athletes. Most of the money would be assigned to an “Athlete Degree Completion Fund,” which could only be accessed upon graduation.
The head-count sports that would currently qualify for revenue-sharing under the statute’s provisions are football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball. Based on 2018 financial figures schools provided to the U.S. Department of Education, the legislation would have worked out to FBS football players in California earning, on average, $132,000 per year in addition to the price of their grant-in-aid, while men’s basketball players would receive an extra $107,000 and women’s basketball players would get $15,000 more annually.
However, a legislative staffer for Bradford told Sportico that, ahead of Wednesday’s committee vote, some key components of the bill have already been changed or eliminated through amendments the legislator was inclined to support. Items thus far on the cutting room floor include a gender-equity provision that would have directly punished schools’ athletic directors with three-year suspensions if their department failed to be Title IX compliant by 2026.
The staffer said that, through the amendment process, the legislation was continuing to try to calibrate the mathematical principles it would use for determining the yearly surplus for a school’s sports programs—in other words, how big the pie really is. Often, universities make the case that their excess football revenue, for example, is used to float the rest of their athletic departments.
Then again, college sports-focused economists have criticized the NCAA and its members for engaging in what they decry as deceptive accounting practices designed to hide profit and overstate deficits, in part by exaggerating the actual costs of their athletic grants-in-aid.
As its title suggests, SB-1401 couches its larger purpose in terms of racial reconciliation, citing data that basketball and football players of color have disproportionately low college graduation rates while schools are generating “excessive athletic program expenditures on salaries, administration and facilities” from their talent.
The bill is being championed by the National College Players Association, the athlete advocacy group that helped spur California’s watershed NIL reform and has recently filed both a discrimination complaint with the Department of Education against all D-I schools, and an unfair labor practice charge against the NCAA, Pac-12 Conference, USC and UCLA. Ramogi Huma, the NCPA’s executive director, says SB-1401 has “the potential to bring true economic reform to college sports.”
“We have said from the beginning, as much as we fought for NIL, that NIL did not bring economic equity,” Huma said. “Many athletes don’t get any money for use of their NIL, but every athlete puts in real work.”
Huma acknowledges that aspects of the SB-1401, such as the degree completion fund, are based on a “political calculus” that don’t necessarily align with the NCPA’s ultimate goal for athletes to be able to fully participate in the free market, without unique restrictions. But with the recent history of NIL in mind, Huma sees this as the right opening move.
“To me, the priority is to break the compensation prohibition and break the cartel,” Huma said. “That is the main thing. And in all the years of discussing players receiving a fair portion of revenue, the discussion has been received more warmly with the idea of making some of the money conditioned upon degree completion. I see this as a beginning to open things up.”
Bradford’s effort picks up the legislative baton from state Sen. Sydney Kamlager, who, then a member of the state Assembly, put forth a bill last February that included the same revenue distribution formula as Bradford’s but did not call for most of the athlete monies to be held in degree-contingent trusts. Kamlager’s legislation died in committee earlier this year and she has since announced her candidacy for the U.S. Congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Karen Bass.
A former youth sports coach, Bradford was a joint author of The Fair Pay to Play Act, state Sen. Nancy Skinner’s precedent-setting NIL bill that ultimately forced the NCAA to retreat for its long-held position against college athletes profiting—if even indirectly—from their on-field work. That beleaguered stance is now under attack by not only state legislatures and courts, but market forces that have continuously pushed the line on what constitutes a permissible NIL deal and what is really a recruiting inducement in disguise.
Following Wednesday’s hearing in the education committee, SB-1401 will be heard for a vote next week by the judiciary committee. If it passes both those committees, the bill would then need to pass the appropriations committee before heading to the floor. Though Skinner’s NIL bill sailed all the way through on its first attempt, Huma says he is prepared for a longer fight this time around.
“If at some point the bill dies, we are coming back next year,” Huma said. “This is not going away.”