NCAA Faces Fair Pay to Play Challenge

By Khary Armster

A delicate subject in college sports has been about a multimillion-dollar organization and schools profiting off athletes’ names, talents and bodies without sharing the monetary benefit with the players. 

California recently enacted the most progressive piece of legislation that deals with college athletes. The state introduced the Fair Pay to Play Act, which permits student athletes to profit off their own likeness, name and image. California Gov. Gavin Newsom officially signed the bill into lawon NBA star LeBron James’s HBO show “The Shop” at the end of September 

Thelawwon’t officially do anything until 2023, but it still represents a highly significant moment in one of the more contentious conversations in sports. The Fair Pay to Play Act will not make the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) directly pay their student-athletes, but it will forbid the NCAA from interfering with players obtaining endorsement deals. That means that college athletes can advertise for shoes, make money off themselves in video games and acquire sponsorships.

Because of the open displeasure about salaries and payments being absent in college sports, many have viewed the Fair Pay to Play Act as win. The NCAA has grown to become a multibillion-dollar enterprise, and it’s directly because of the games they feature. Many have developed angst that nearly everyone in the college sports industry profits in some way, shape or form from college athletes’ play and entertainment, but the athletes themselves do not. 

Supporters of this new California law say that players would not only finally be reciprocated for all of the hard work, training and balance of school work put into the game-day products, but also for the attraction, anticipation and revenue they create for the universities and association.

Similarly, detractors of the Fair Pay to Play Act insist that the scholarships or full rides that the players receive should be enough to compensation in addition to their all-expenses-paid travel and lodging along with other benefits. 

Some institutions believe that California now holds a slightly unfair advantage and that more students will gravitate there, creating an imbalance in recruiting. 

“If that was the only place that offered that type of benefit, then I would have been more swayed to go to California,” said Mason Jordan, a junior football player at Howard University. 

The racial and power dynamics have made the matter even more contentious between the athletes on one side and the coaches and executives on the other. This is particularly true for football and basketball, which are predominantly comprised of African Americans and Latinos. 

Statistics have shown that the majority of people who oppose college pay are white, and the majority of those in favor of it are people of color. Some view the structure of the NCAA as a form of exploitation, making profits off black and brown bodies. The dynamic is parallel to those of the 1700s and 1800s. A prime example is William H. Rhoden’s book “Forty Million Dollar Slaves.”

Another subtopic is the effect the Fair Pay to Play Act could have on female student-athletes. Despite not being as visible as male sports, women’s college sports still bring attention and revenue to universities, especially if they’re historically elite and advance in tournaments. 

Female athletes also carry similar schedules and demands as their male counterparts. Despite having a scholarship, some athletes say they may still need more income to cover other amenities. 

“I feel like I wouldn’t try to find ways to make more income, and I would just focus on athletics more than a job,” said Howard volleyball player Marcelle Butler said of the law.

Some hopethat California will set a precedent for other states to follow. “I think that California is one of the states that is always ahead of the curve,” said Alois Clemons, president of ARC Connections Inc., a marketing communications agency. They’re almost 10 years ahead of the states, so it might take other states while to catch up,” 

“I would hope that states like Alabama and Texas, big states that play football, will be the next to come around, because the money that Alabama makes on college football is absolutely incredible.” 

Other states have proposed similar measures. For example, A New York state senator was trying to push a bill that he claims was inspired by the Fair Pay to Play Act. A lawmaker in Illinois introduced a bill almost identical to California’s, and Pennsylvania lawmakers are in the process of introducing one as well. U.S. House Rep. Anthony Gonzalez is considering introducing a bill at the congressional level. 

Khary Armster covers sports for

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