A pressing debate in the current college sports reform movement is whether further expanding the economic rights of male revenue-sport athletes will come at the expense of female athletes.
California state Sen. Steven Bradford thought he had found a cure-all when, in February, he introduced Senate Bill 1401, the College Athlete Race and Gender Equity Act.
But the legislation has stalled in the state Senate appropriations committee, with opponents using Title IX to shoot down payments to athletes. Bradford said the adversarial arguments put forth by California schools, such as USC and UCLA, were based on “fears and disinformation” over Title IX, but those arguments have won out so far—even after sponsors removed all gender-equity language from the bill.
SB-1401 would require California universities whose sports produce a certain amount of excess revenue to split those profits with the participating athletes. Using a formula that compares the revenue generated by each sport and the money expended on athletic scholarships, the only sports that would currently qualify are football and men’s and women’s basketball—the only collegiate sports that are majority black.
In its original version, SB-1401 also sought to add teeth to Title IX by directly threatening the jobs of athletic directors whose programs weren’t gender-equity compliant by 2026. (The offending ADs would face three-year suspensions from California schools.)
However, that language was entirely stripped from the bill prior to its first hearing, in front of the state Senate’s education committee, back in April. SB-1401 unanimously passed out of that committee, and received the judiciary committee’s approval, before snagging in appropriations.
Bradford says the original gender-equity language of the bill, instead of allaying those concerned about its Title IX implications, only caused headaches.
“Trying to respond to the fear-mongering of what impact it was going to have, we just removed it altogether to end that discussion that this was going to affect women’s athletics,” Bradford said in a telephone interview. “What I kept scratching my head about is we are trying to protect women’s athletics, but naysayers and folks who are making all the ruckus on this felt it needed to be removed.”
Thus, the “Gender Equity” part of the legislation now exists in name only, and Bradford indicated he has no plans to add it back in any form.
Bradford criticized schools like USC and UCLA and smaller Cal-State institutions as unfairly undermining the legislation along gender-equity lines.
“I didn’t hear [opposition] from a single female athlete or coach of female athletics,” Bradford said. “None were advocating for me to take [the Title IX part] out. That was for universities who were trying to throw this red herring out there that this was a poison pill.”
In California, bills that are determined to have at least a $50,000 impact on the state’s general fund are put into the appropriations committee’s Suspense File, and they can only then be moved out through a vote in a separate suspense hearing. SB 1401 failed to do so on May 19.
Regardless of its impact on college athletics, Bradford argues, the legislation had no fiscal impact on the state.
“The state didn’t have to fund this at all,” Bradford said. “For it to be held, that was the real disappointment.”
However, according to an appropriations committee analysis, the University of California system projected SB-1401 would impose costs of at least $34 million per year to maintain the main the revenue-share fund for athletes, who under the bill would get their money upon completion of a degree.
That same analysis also amplified concerns broached by the Cal State system that the bill would put its schools out of Title IX compliance, because “the redistribution of revenues will be disproportional to male and female athletes.”
Bradford says that Title IX, as opposed to fiscal impact, was the main explanation the state Senate’s appropriations chair, Sen. Anthony Portantino, gave him as to why the bill was held up. Portantino did not respond to a request for comment sent to his spokesperson.
Along with state Sen. Nancy Skinner, Bradford previously co-authored California’s SB 206, the nation’s first state-based bill asserting NIL rights for college athletes, which led to a national wave of copycat laws that forced the NCAA last July to withdraw its long-time prohibition on college athletes making endorsement money.
The success of SB 206, and the resulting momentum for seismic college sports reform, gave some hope that Bradford’s pay-to-play legislation could find a way to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk, even as the NCAA continues to fumble over regulating NIL. Both California bills had been endorsed by the National College Players Association, whose executive director, Ramogi Huma, is a former UCLA football player.
Assuming SB-1401 doesn’t get taken off suspense this legislative cycle, Bradford says he will reintroduce it—or a substantially similar version of it—in December.
“I don’t plan on making any major changes,” Bradford said, referring to its most current form, which excludes the original Title IX enforcement language. “We are going to try to continue to thread the needle and maybe better articulate the intentions of this bill, and what it doesn’t do.”