NCAA sends letter to California governor, urging him to veto bill that would allow college athletes to be paid

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The 72-0 sweep vote Monday evening by California's State Assembly on a bill that would give protection -- and liberation -- to student-athletes in that state to earn money off their name, image and likeness has prompted a pressing response from the NCAA to California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

On Wednesday morning the NCAA publicly released its 327-word letter that was also sent directly to Newsom (in advance of the bill being placed in his hands for approval or veto) asking him to reject the measure. The Assembly Appropriations Committee in California's Senate is expected to vote in favor of SB 206 -- also known as the Fair Pay to Play Act -- this week and from there all it would need to be enacted into law is Newsom's signature of approval.

If that happens, the law would take effect Jan. 1, 2023. 

Current NCAA bylaws state that any programs that roster student-athletes who accept money or benefits from outside interests are in violation of NCAA amateurism rules. As a result, those student-athletes would be subject to having their NCAA eligibility voided, not to mention their teams' eligibility for NCAA championship competition potentially eliminated. The NCAA is urging Newsom to veto the bill in an effort to dodge a logistical headache, stating the SB 206 would "eliminate the element of fairness that supports all of college sports."

It also would bring a factor of professionalism to collegiate athletics which, from the players' side of things, has never been part of the NCAA's core mission. Going hand in hand with such an evolution, the NCAA also warned against a recruiting advantage for universities in the state of California. 

While the NCAA acknowledges that there is ongoing examination on how to update its rules regarding name, image and likeness, it also reiterates that any forthcoming amendments in NCAA legislation would not condone a system in which athletes could be explicitly paid to play. 

That philosophical stance is in contrast of the spirit and intention with SB 206, and if Newsom signs California's bill into law, it could inevitably lead to multiple high-profile court battles in the coming years.

Below in full is the letter written by the NCAA Board of Governors, which includes NCAA President Mark Emmert:  

Governor Newsom: 
 
The 1,100 schools that make up the NCAA have always, in everything we do, supported a level playing field for all student-athletes. This core belief extends to each member college and university in every state across the nation. 
 
California Senate Bill 206 would upend that balance. 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. These outcomes are untenable and would negatively impact more than 24,000 California student-athletes across three divisions. 
 
Right now, nearly half a million student-athletes in all 50 states compete under the same rules. This bill would remove that essential element of fairness and equal treatment that forms the bedrock of college sports. 

The NCAA continues to focus on the best interests of all student-athletes nationwide. NCAA member schools already are working on changing rules for all student-athletes to appropriately use their name, image and likeness in accordance with our values — but not pay them to play. The NCAA has consistently stood by its belief that student-athletes are students first, and they should not be employees of the university. 

It isn't possible to resolve the challenges of today's college sports environment in this way — by one state taking unilateral action. With more than 1,100 schools and nearly 500,000 student-athletes across the nation, the rules and policies of college sports must be established through the Association's collaborative governance system. A national model of collegiate sport requires mutually agreed upon rules. 
 
We urge the state of California to reconsider this harmful and, we believe, unconstitutional bill and hope the state will be a constructive partner in our efforts to develop a fair name, image and likeness approach for all 50 states. 
 
Sincerely,  
Members of the NCAA Board of Governors 

The language above clearly exposes how dire the NCAA views this issue. But California Sen. Nancy Skinner has said that SB 206 was put on a timeline of 2023 for the explicit purpose of giving the NCAA and schools around the country more than enough time to adjust and update/amend bylaws. That timeline -- nearly 40 months between now and Jan. 1, 2023 -- was not addressed in the NCAA's letter. 

If the bill passes, California could be the first in a domino effect with other states. Washington and Colorado are also considering similar legislation, according to a report from The New York Times, and senators from Connecticut and North Carolina are also currently exploring ways at the federal level to empower student-athletes and force the NCAA to modernize its oft-criticized rules on amateurism. 

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning senior writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his ninth season reporting on college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics... Full Bio

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