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California Could Radically Alter Amateur Rules In College Sports


The state of California is poised to give college athletes more power. As early as today, the California State Senate could give final approval to a bill that would radically alter amateurism rules in the state's college sports. Senate Bill 206 would allow college athletes to earn money for the use of their names, images and likeness. Historically, the NCAA has imposed tight restrictions on athlete compensation.

Here's NPR's Tom Goldman.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: The California Senate already approved SB 206 a few months ago with a bipartisan vote of 31 to 5. An amended version passed the state assembly Monday 73 to zero. The bill goes back to the Senate for a final vote today, and the new version is expected to pass again.

RAMOGI HUMA: This is big.

GOLDMAN: Ramogi Huma has been fighting for college athletes' rights since 1997, when he played football for UCLA. He's now the executive director of the National College Players Association. Huma says, if the bill becomes law, it'll mean equal treatment for college athletes who haven't been able to cash in on their athletic reputations. They have, he says, been forced to adhere to an increasingly outdated model of amateurism while everything around them has become hyper-professionalized - coaches making million-dollar salaries, billion-dollar TV contracts. Huma says SB 206 would fundamentally change the college athlete experience in California.

HUMA: Players can now go back, if this bill passes, to their old high schools, for instance, and throw sports camps. They can use their athletic reputation. They can use their athletic prominence, their name - anything that they can capitalize on, whether it be a YouTube channel or starting a small business. They can write a blog and get paid about their experience as a college athlete.

GOLDMAN: Recent supporters include NBA star LeBron James and presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang. There's pushback, though, from California's schools, like Long Beach State University, where Andy Fee is the athletic director.

ANDY FEE: I'm going to be really clear about this. I'm not against the conversation of finding ways to enhance the student athlete experience.

GOLDMAN: What he is against is what he calls the mechanism of SB 206. He says there are unintended consequences, like this one - the more than 40 international athletes at Long Beach State, he says, are there on student visas that are very restrictive when it comes to any kind of work those students might do.

FEE: And one of the restricted types of employment is multi-level marketing agreements.

GOLDMAN: Meaning, if they signed a deal to benefit from their name, image or likeness, Fee says, they could face deportation. The NCAA has implied it could ban California colleges and universities from NCAA championships if the bill passes, claiming California schools would have an unfair advantage recruiting athletes who want to make money on their images.

Ramogi Huma says such a ban would violate antitrust laws. He hopes SB 206 has a domino effect throughout the country. Already other states - including Washington and Colorado - are considering similar bills. If the California one passes, it goes to the governor, who has 30 days to veto or sign. It would become law in 2023.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF KERO ONE'S "DEEP SPACE INSTRO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on