California introduced what could be a landmark bill (SB 206) to help end the immorality of the NCAA from making billions of dollars of its athletes without having to pay them anything beyond the cost of education, while also preventing them from making any money off of their own likeness. LeBron James played a central role in helping to make this happen, and even had California Governor Gavin Newsom on his HBO show, “The Shop,” to sign the bill into law.
During his media availability after sitting out of Lakers practice on Monday morning, James was asked about the bill, and while he acknowledged how much progress this could represent, he also understood that this is just the beginning.
“I think it’s a great day. It’s a win, obviously, here in California,” James told reporters. “I’m just honored to be a part of it and be with the governor and for him to understand what these athletes have been going through for so many years. So, it’s the start of something that we believe is special.”
California will allow NCAA athletes to make money, starting in 2023: https://t.co/03rLobsttd— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 30, 2019
As one would expect because the NCAA is the worst, they have since responded in a statement with the typical slippery-slope, fallacy-laden criticisms of the bill:
As a membership organization, the NCAA agrees changes are needed to continue to support student-athletes, but improvement needs to happen on a national level through the NCAA’s rules-making process. Unfortunately, this new law already is creating confusion for current and future student-athletes, coaches, administrators and campuses, and not just in California.
We will consider next steps in California while our members move forward with ongoing efforts to make adjustments to NCAA name, image and likeness rules that are both realistic in modern society and tied to higher education.
As more states consider their own specific legislation related to this topic, it is clear that a patchwork of different laws from different states will make unattainable the goal of providing a fair and level playing field for 1,100 campuses and nearly half a million student-athletes nationwide.
The PAC-12 echoed that sentiment in its own statement:
The Pac-12 is disappointed in the passage of SB 206 and believes it will have very significant negative consequences for our student-athletes and broader universities in California. This legislation will lead to the professionalization of college sports and many unintended consequences related to this professionalism, imposes a state law that conflicts with national rules, will blur the lines for how California universities recruit student-athletes and compete nationally, and will likely reduce resources and opportunities for student-athletes in Olympic sports and have a negative disparate impact on female student-athletes.
Our universities have led important student-athlete reform over the past years, but firmly believe all reforms must treat our student-athletes as students pursuing an education, and not as professional athletes. We will work with our universities to determine next steps and ensure continuing support for our student-athletes.
SB 206 is just a means for athletes to be paid for revenue they generate individually. It doesn’t call for compensation from the schools, but merely allows athletes to benefit from money they are personally responsible for. It also brings these types of payments that are happening already under the table into the light of day, which would seem to be safer or more ethical for all involved.
It’s especially insane that the PAC-12, which stands to benefit greatly from this legislation, is so used to having complete control over its players that it would ignore the advantage that could come from a chunk of its schools gaining said advantage.
James was asked why he’s taken such an active stance on the subject, and he recalled what life was like before he turned pro and how things could have been had the one-and-done rule been in play back then.
“I was one of those underprivileged kids,” James said. “I was fortunate enough and talented enough to be able to skip college, but for sure I would have been one of those kids if I had went off to Ohio State, or if I had went off to any of these big-time colleges where that 23 jersey would have gotten sold all over the place. Without my name on the back, but everybody would have known the likeness. My body would have been on the NCAA basketball game (in) 2004. And Schottenstein Center would have been sold out every single night if I was there.
“Me and my mom, we didn’t have anything and we wouldn’t have been able to benefit at all from it, and the university would have been able to capitalize on everything,” James continued. “So I understand what those kids are going through, I feel for those kids who have been going through it for so long, and that’s why it was personal for me.”
This is the part of this subject that those against paying athletes don’t seem to understand. Some of the athletes who generate billions in TV revenue, ticket sales and everything come from less-fortunate backgrounds, and their family could benefit greatly from actual legitimate payment, whether from the university itself or from at least being able to profit off their own likeness, like SB 206 is set to allow them to.
So while some cite the cost of education as fair compensation, that doesn’t cover expenses families of athletes might desperately need, as James seems to feel his did before he opted to skip college and enter the NBA draft.
During his appearance on “The Shop,” Newsom hammered home why this is such an important step forward:
“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.”
Lakers head coach Frank Vogel also showed support for the bill after practice.
“It’s about time. I think it’s great for the athletes who are playing NCAA, or any sport really, to be able to make money off of their own likeness. To me it’s common sense, it’s something that’s been neglected over the years and I think they finally got it right,” Vogel said.
Vogel said that back when he coached at Kentucky, graduated athletes would go on “barnstorming” tours of local high school gyms to get back a piece of the pie, but that this is a far superior solution.
“It’s about time. I think it’s great for the athletes who are playing NCAA, or any sport really, to be able to make money off of their own likeness. To me it’s common sense,” Vogel said. “I think they finally got it right.”
Vogel was also asked if this bill would have helped him back when he was playing college basketball before coaching at Kentucky, and he gave a pretty amazing answer.
“Zero dollars. No one would pay me to do anything,” he joked.
But some people would pay athletes, and James, Newsom and everyone else involved in SB 206 deserve a ton of credit for helping push to make that possible, just as the NCAA and PAC-12 deserve all the derision they get from wanting to continue to get away with not just not paying, but actively preventing the athletes that help generate an estimated $14 billion annually across the NCAA from profiting off their likeness.
With the passage of this bill, the proverbial ball is now in their court.
“Now it’s the NCAA’s turn to step up,” James said.