Lodi News-Sentinel - - SPORTS - By Nathan Fenno and Melody Gutierrez

Cal­i­for­nia’s col­lege ath­letes are a step closer to be­ing able to make money from the use of their names, images and like­nesses.

The state Assem­bly’s Arts, En­ter­tain­ment, Sports, Tourism and In­ter­net Me­dia Com­mit­tee passed a bill Tues­day that would fun­da­men­tally change how the Na­tional Col­le­giate Ath­letic Assn. con­ducts busi­ness.

The Fair Pay to Play Act, ap­proved by the state Se­nate in May, now moves to the Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee.

“As I have read through mul­ti­ple pages of ar­ti­cles on the NCAA and its pun­ish­ments and its pro­hi­bi­tions and how folks have lost el­i­gi­bil­ity, it’s right out of the ‘Godfather’ movie,” Assem­bly­woman Syd­ney Kam­lager-Dove (D-Los An­ge­les) said be­fore vot­ing for the bill Tues­day.

NCAA rules bar ath­letes from be­ing com­pen­sated for use of their names, images or like­nesses. While the bill would not al­low schools to di­rectly pay ath­letes, ath­letes would be able to re­ceive com­pen­sa­tion from out­side sources — for ex­am­ple, from a video game com­pany or for sign­ing au­to­graphs or me­mora­bilia.

The bill ad­vanced de­spite a let­ter from NCAA Pres­i­dent Mark Em­mert last week urg­ing the com­mit­tee to post­pone con­sid­er­ing it and warn­ing of dire con­se­quences if it pro­ceeded.

Em­mert’s let­ter read, in part: “[W]hen con­trasted with cur­rent NCAA rules, as drafted the bill threat­ens to al­ter ma­te­ri­ally the prin­ci­ples of in­ter­col­le­giate ath­let­ics and cre­ate lo­cal dif­fer­ences that would make it im­pos­si­ble to host fair na­tional cham­pi­onships. As a re­sult, it likely would have a neg­a­tive im­pact on the ex­act stu­dent-ath­letes it in­tends to as­sist.”

The NCAA cre­ated a group of col­lege pres­i­dents, con­fer­ence com­mis­sion­ers, ath­letic di­rec­tors and ath­letes in May to study how a col­lege ath­lete could mon­e­tize his or her name, im­age and like­ness “in a fash­ion that would be con­sis­tent with the NCAA’s core val­ues, mis­sion and prin­ci­ples.” The group will pro­vide an up­date in Au­gust and is ex­pected to is­sue a re­port in Oc­to­ber, but Em­mert warned it would not con­sider “con­cepts by which stu­dent-ath­letes are con­sid­ered em­ploy­ees and paid for their ath­let­ics par­tic­i­pa­tion.”

The pro­posed leg­is­la­tion pro­hibits the NCAA from ban­ning a univer­sity from com­pe­ti­tion if the ath­letes were com­pen­sated. If the bill is passed by the Assem­bly and signed by Gov. Gavin New­som, the Fair Pay to Play Act would take ef­fect Jan. 1, 2023. That pro­vides the NCAA time to make changes to its rules and Cal­i­for­nia lee­way to in­tro­duce fu­ture leg­is­la­tion if changes are needed to en­sure schools are not pe­nal­ized, said Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berke­ley), who co-au­thored the bill.

Em­mert wrote that pass­ing the bill would “cre­ate con­fu­sion among prospec­tive and cur­rent stu­dent-ath­letes and our mem­ber­ship” while lead­ing to a sit­u­a­tion that would be “dif­fi­cult to un­tan­gle.”

The NCAA didn’t im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment on Tues­day’s de­vel­op­ment.

Pac-12 Con­fer­ence Com­mis­sioner Larry Scott wrote to the com­mit­tee ear­lier this month ask­ing the bill be de­layed un­til the NCAA group had stud­ied the mat­ter. Scott added that the con­fer­ence’s “mis­sion and core val­ues are very much aligned with [Skinner’s] in­ter­est in pro­tect­ing and sup­port­ing the wel­fare of stu­dent-ath­letes” and cited sev­eral re­forms in re­cent years.

Skinner said pass­ing the bill would be sig­nif­i­cant for fe­male ath­letes, who have fewer op­por­tu­ni­ties to make big money in pro­fes­sional sports. “Col­lege may be the only time for which their ath­letic prow­ess may be so val­ued that they might be able to have their home­town car dealer ... spon­sor them, or a Ro­tary Club or a Ki­wa­nis Club — all of which is pro­hib­ited now un­der the NCAA rules,” she said.

Sen. Steven Brad­ford (D-Gar­dena), coau­thor of the bill, said the is­sue was “not re­ally cen­tered on sports, it’s cen­tered on fair­ness.”

“I wish this bill did more,” he added. “I wish it guar­an­teed con­tin­u­ing ed­u­ca­tion for any ath­lete who played for a ma­jor univer­sity un­til they achieve a de­gree and if they want to get a grad­u­ate de­gree they should be af­forded that op­por­tu­nity. ... They gen­er­ate mil­lions of dol­lars and don’t ben­e­fit.”

The Cal­i­for­nia State Univer­sity and Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia sys­tems have said they would have to spend mil­lions of dol­lars to hire staff to en­sure com­pli­ance with the bill. Univer­sity ath­letic de­part­ments, how­ever, al­ready em­ploy com­pli­ance staff — UCLA lists 10 mem­bers of its com­pli­ance de­part­ment — to make cer­tain NCAA rules are be­ing fol­lowed.

Dur­ing the com­mit­tee hear­ing, Long Beach State ath­letic di­rec­tor Andy Fee cau­tioned “many po­ten­tial and un­in­tended con­se­quences” if the bill be­comes law.

“I fear the dis­tinct pos­si­bil­ity of a sce­nario where Cal­i­for­nia schools could be ex­pelled for will­ful break­ing of NCAA rules,” Fee said. “Should Cal­i­for­nia schools be ex­pelled, the very stu­dent-ath­letes the bill is in­tended to as­sist would be ad­versely af­fected.”

The omi­nous pre­dic­tion echoes com­ments by Scott last fall in a defama­tion law­suit by for­mer USC foot­ball as­sis­tant coach Todd McNair against the NCAA. Be­fore a Los An­ge­les County Su­pe­rior Court judge ruled that a key pun­ish­ment used by the NCAA vi­o­lated Cal­i­for­nia law, Scott claimed the de­ci­sion “would threaten the NCAA mem­ber­ship” of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s four schools in the state.

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