California Governor Gavin Newsom took a historic first step on Sept. 30 when he signed SB 206 into law. The law, which is set to take effect in 2023, will allow student-athletes to earn compensation through endorsements off of their own name, likeness and image, which was previously unheard of in collegiate competition. The law will also allow student-athletes to hire representation and protect themselves from universities that threaten to take their scholarship for earning compensation.
While the new law makes significant headway into the how-to-pay student-athlete debate, it still needs to be amended and improved upon to ensure that lesser-known players are paid for the hours of dedication to their craft. Not every player on collegiate rosters is going to have the name recognition to earn endorsement deals. In fact, the majority of schools and student-athletes in California don’t. There are a few standout schools, including UCLA and USC, but most college athletic programs aren’t renowned in the state or the country. As a result, there will likely be an imbalance in compensation at schools all around the state.
For example, UCR’s athletic program is not well-known outside of the area and they struggle to fill the stands with students who live nearby, so the likelihood of their student-athletes signing lucrative endorsement deals is slim. There may be a few players on the men’s basketball team who will be able to sign small endorsements with local businesses, but players who are not regular starters and players who spend most of their time on the bench are out of luck. Those players are in the gym practicing their craft just as long as the starters but under this law, they likely won’t be paid for it.
Still, as stated earlier, this is a historic moment. Student-athletes earning any kind of compensation is a victory no one could have imagined 10 years ago. That being said, there’s still a long way to go before student-athletes are fairly compensated for the number of hours they spend working on their craft.
Another concern is that there are only certain sports that will draw in business endorsements. The most popular collegiate sports in America are by far football and basketball, but the majority of schools’ athletic programs offer a wider variety than that. This begs the question as to how student-athletes who play sports such as water polo, golf, tennis or track and field will fare in the endorsement market. It’s impossible to say for certain, but it’s very possible that they won’t be earning nearly as much as student-athletes in the more popular sports. Again, they may have success endorsing local businesses related to their sport, but it’s unclear if those endorsements will be extended to every player on the roster, which is also a concern.
What needs to be established is a system that will first pay student-athletes a set, equal-paying stipend that they can live off of. On top of the equal-paying stipend, student-athletes should also have the opportunity to sign endorsement deals and capitalize on their own name, image and likeness, which this law will establish. The endorsement market could be where the bigger stars of college sports will have the opportunity to earn more than the stipend amount, but having endorsements as the only form of income for a student-athlete is too unpredictable and unfair.
While athletes who play at big schools and have name recognition will have the opportunity to earn money off endorsements, California’s Fair Pay to Play act will have to ensure that the everyday student-athlete will also be paid.