BILLINGSLEY: Newsom Makes The Right Move Allowing College Athletes To Market Themselves

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Lloyd Billingsley Policy Fellow, Independent Institute
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California Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a bill to allow college athletes to market their name, image and likeness. Such a law is long overdue, and no surprise that it still faces opposition from the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

The NCAA maintains that college athletes are “amateurs,” but rakes in billions for “nonprofit” athletic associations and college bureaucrats nobody will pay to watch. People pay to watch college athletes, the last people in America to be paid in kind, through scholarships. The NCAA prohibits athletes from having financial rights to use their own name but eagerly monetizes their images to fill stadiums and sign multi-billion-media deals.

Conservative Republicans such as North Carolina Rep. Mark Walker, a former student athlete, back the college athletes’ cause. The first to actually do something about it is California state Sen. Nancy Skinner, a Berkeley Democrat, the principal author of the measure signed by Newsom, also a liberal Democrat.

Senate Bill 206 allows college athletes to gain compensation for their “name, image and likeness,” like everybody else in America. The measure would also “prohibit an athletic association” from preventing a school from “participating in intercollegiate athletics as a result of the compensation of a student athlete for the use of the student’s name, image, or likeness.”

The arrangement will begin in 2023 but athletes might wonder why it took so long. The shady economic realities of college sports have been on display for decades.

On Jan. 20, 1968, basketball powerhouse UCLA, led by 7-foot 2-inch center Lew Alcindor, before he became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, played the University of Houston, led by 6-foot 9-inch Elvin Hayes. Hayes blocked three of Alcindor’s shots, and underdog Houston prevailed 71-69 in the “game of the century” before 52,693 fans in the Astrodome and a national television audience in the millions.

According to the late broadcaster Dick Enberg, at half-time the TV advertisers began phoning in to buy more 30-second spots. For this game the universities each received $125,000. The players, whom people had paid big money to watch, received nothing. In following decades little has changed.

The NCAA seems unaware that all people in American hold the marketing rights to their own name, image and likeness. A college student on a music scholarship can play a paying gig, but a punter at Central Florida was declared ineligible after he refused to stop selling ads on his YouTube page

Nancy Skinner’s Senate Bill 206 will change that dynamic. The NCAA tried to block the bill, urging the California “to reconsider this harmful and, we believe, unconstitutional bill.” Newsom wasn’t buying it.

“This notion of ‘student-athlete,’ give me a break,” Newsom told Trevor Noah on the Daily Show. “These guys are expected full-time to sacrifice themselves for athletics, but when they’re done, the next crew comes in and it’s just this cycle.”

Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang support the concept of pay for college athletes. On a recent swing through California, candidate Pete Buttigieg told reporters, “I’m not ready to declare that as a federal policy, but I do think it’s a healthy debate.”

For NBA star LeBron James, a longtime critic of the NCAA, there is no debate. His HBO show “The Shop” featured a video clip to celebrate the bill. “That’s the governor’s signature right there,” James explained.

For Newsom, this is a slam dunk in the NCAA’s face and a victory for all college athletes.

Lloyd Billingsley is a policy fellow at the nonprofit Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.