NCAA warns California bill that would allow college athletes to be paid is ‘unconstitutional’

The NCAA warned Gov. Gavin Newsom in a letter Wednesday of dire consequences that could result from a bill that would allow college athletes to be paid for the use of their name, image and likeness.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

The National Collegiate Athletic Assn. warned Gov. Gavin Newsom in a letter Wednesday that state legislation allowing college athletes to be paid for the use of their name, image and likeness would be “unconstitutional” and “harmful.”

“If the bill becomes law and California’s 58 NCAA schools are compelled to allow an unrestricted name, image and likeness scheme, it would erase the critical distinction between college and professional athletics and, because it gives those schools an unfair recruiting advantage, would result in them eventually being unable to compete in NCAA competitions,” the letter said.

NCAA President Mark Emmert and 21 other members of the organization’s board of governors signed the letter.


The state Assembly passed the bill, previously named the Fair Pay to Play Act, by a 72-0 vote on Monday. The state Senate, which approved a previous version of the bill 31-4, is expected to take it up again as early as Wednesday.

“Numerous legal scholars assert that SB 206 is constitutional and that an NCAA ban of California colleges from championship competition is a clear violation of federal anti-trust law,” Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), the bill’s author, said Wednesday in a statement. “The NCAA has repeatedly lost anti-trust cases in courts throughout the nation. As a result, threats are their primary weapon.”

Lakers star LeBron James pushed back against the NCAA letter on social media.

“Or … because of this bill, you can work with everyone to create a national policy that is fair to athletes,” James tweeted to more than 43 million followers.

The bill, which would take effect Jan. 1, 2023, would stop the NCAA from barring a university from competition if its athletes were compensated for the use of their name, image or likeness. NCAA rules prohibit the practice.

“This bill would remove that essential element of fairness and equal treatment that forms the bedrock of college sport,” the letter said.

California lawmakers have given overwhelming bipartisan support to a bill that would let college athletes in California sign deals to use their names, images and likenesses.

Sept. 11, 2019

Emmert sent a letter to state legislators in June that warned of dire consequences if the bill passed. The move, however, appeared to galvanize support for the legislation. Before Monday’s state Assembly vote, lawmakers assailed the NCAA for the missive they believed to be threatening California.


The NCAA wants more time for a working group formed earlier this year to examine the name, image and likeness issue.

“NCAA member schools already are working on changing rules for all student-athletes to appropriately use their name, imagine and likeness in accordance with our values — but not to pay them to play,” the letter to Newsom said.