If you follow college sports at any level, you are likely aware that California governor Gavin Newsom just signed the Fair Pay to Play Act (SB-206) into law yesterday morning. This means that in 2023, college athletes may be able to profit from their images, likenesses, and skills, depending on the responses of the NCAA and California universities (It’s a hard “maybe” for now. Check out ESPN’s nifty little School House Rock-esque video explaining the potential path of the bill here).
I think it’s safe to say that everyone deserves to profit from what is rightfully theirs, and many sports fans consider SB-206 a monumental victory in the fight for athletic rights. It’s definitely a win, but it’s probably not as big of a deal as most people think. Here are ten key reasons why:
1.) In spite of the name, the Fair Pay to Play Act isn’t paying athletes. Rather, it’s allowing financially-illiterate eighteen-year-olds the right to be entrepreneurs, which is potentially dangerous because the bill doesn’t provide any monetary regulation or financial education for the young adults it affects. But because it’s a state law, SB-206 is a great way for California to pay off its debt through taxable revenue.
2.) SB-206 won’t grant college athletes employee status and the benefits (e.g. insurance and the right to unionize) that come with it.
3.) The bill won’t fix the fact that there is no definition of athletic abuse in the Division 1 Manual, let alone any rules against coaches and trainers harming the athletes they oversee (Google Larry Nassar, Richard Strauss, or Sylvia Hatchell for examples of what abuse looks like in athletic settings). Athletes will still be just as vulnerable to abuses of power if/when SB-206 goes into effect.
4.) It won’t provide discriminatory protections to minority athletes and coaches. Discrimination is legal, according to the gaps in the Division 1 Manual.
5.) It won’t provide mental health services to athletes, and these initiatives are desperately needed. Poor mental health among college athletes is a silent epidemic, and college athletes are particularly susceptible to anxiety, depression, PTSD, and eating disorders, all of which put them at a higher risk of heart issues and suicide than the general population. The NCAA has yet to address these problems at a meaningful level.
6.) SB-206 won’t improve training room health care for athletes, because the NCAA requires literally nothing of the healthcare specialists that work with its athletes. There’s a whole handbook of guidelines (which hasn’t been updated since 2015), but no hard and fast requirements, which puts athletes at medical risk.
7.) It won’t close the pay gap between male and female coaches, or the funding gaps between men’s and women’s athletic programs.
8.) The bill won’t lift scholarship caps. Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of college athletes don’t have full ride scholarships, because the NCAA limits the amount of monetary resources teams can provide them. For example, Division 1 track teams receive 12.6 full scholarships to be dealt out to rosters that typically hover around 30 athletes. This keeps resources scarce, which keeps things toxically competitive among teammates, and makes college athletes dangerously controllable. If coaches maintain financial control over athletes, they can make athletes do just about anything, and SB-206 won’t leverage that playing field for the majority of college athletes who aren’t worth millions of dollars.
9.) SB-206 won’t give college athletes any job security. Coaches get multi-year contracts, but can legally cut an athlete’s scholarship without warning, and for virtually any reason.
10.) It won’t give athletes anywhere to go with any of the aforementioned problems. There is no standard operating procedure for reporting athletic grievances, which is why most athletes stay silent when they are mistreated (e.g. the University of Nebraska softball team) and keeps the system in place.
Allowing college athletes to earn money is a good fight to fight, but it’s certainly not the only one. The NCAA needs a complete structural reform before it actually starts benefitting its athletes, so although the one-sidedness of the amateurism conversation is frustrating, the national attention is encouraging. Maybe SB-206 will serve as a good wrecking ball to start dismantling–and then rebuilding–a crooked, but promising, organization.