On Monday, California Senate Bill 206, “SB-206” or the “Fair Pay to Play Act”, was signed by Governor Gavin Newsom. The bill will allow collegiate student-athletes in the state of California to profit from the use of their names, images, and likenesses, in opposition to the amateurism policies of the NCAA. SB-206 would also prohibit the NCAA, as well as its member schools and conferences, from taking any punitive action, such as participation bans or scholarship penalties, against a California institution which allows its student-athletes to take advantage of these newfound rights, as well as the student-athletes themselves. The bill would essentially compel California institutions to follow state law by breaking NCAA rules.
While SB-206 still does not allow institutions to directly pay student-athletes, the student-athletes may now profit off of their names, images, and likenesses through individual business or through a third party. Among the previously prohibited activities now permitted by SB-206 are the signing of endorsement contracts, paid autograph signings, paid coaching positions, and personal marketing opportunities. In the negotiation of endorsement contracts, student-athletes will be permitted to use representation, including athletic agents, licensed by the state of California. California schools may also return to licensing the names, images, and likenesses of their student-athletes, such as for the use of video games, with those student-athletes now sharing in the profits.
Among the NCAA’s arguments against the bill is that the advantage now given to institutions in California upsets the “essential element of fairness and equal treatment that forms the bedrock of college sports”, as those institutions and student-athletes now have a unique advantage over every other state in the country that is likely to influence recruiting. While the bill does not allow the NCAA to take punitive action, the state cannot prevent the NCAA from breaking away from California as a whole. The NCAA may not be able to prevent California institutions from play, but they do have the right to dismiss those schools and have already levied that threat against California lawmakers.
So how does all of this impact hockey? As of right now, it doesn’t. There are no NCAA teams – Division I, II, or III – in the state of California. Thus, the added benefit to California student-athletes wouldn’t affect the landscape of college hockey, nor would the NCAA dismissing any California schools. However, SB-206 is just the beginning. Many states have already submitted or are at least considering similar bills regarding the publicity rights of college athletes. Those states include New York and Colorado, which house major Division I hockey programs like Denver, Colorado College, Colgate, Cornell, and Clarkson. The movement to allow student-athletes the right to profit from their name, image, and likeness – a policy that costs the NCAA and the individual schools nothing – is likely to catch on and there will be a widespread impact on hockey at the developmental level.
Among the reasons why the NCAA currently considers the CHL to be a “pro” league, making its members ineligible for collegiate competition, is that they already allow their players to sign endorsement deals and profit from their names, images, and likenesses in other ways. However, Canada is so saturated with junior hockey, including pro teams, that the opportunities for CHL players to find substantial money-making uses for their publicity rights are few and far between. If states begin to follow in California’s footsteps, or if the NCAA itself was to adopt the policy, it would further raise the stakes of the competition between the junior level and college level for hockey’s best young prospects. College players would be allowed to make money off of their success and fame and would likely have more opportunities and more money available to them in the United States. There’s also the possibility that changes to the NCAA policies on publicity right could cause them to re-evaluate their stance on the CHL’s amateur status, possibly allowing former junior athletes to jump to the college ranks. In either scenario, the CHL stands to lose even more participants to the college game if a more modern treatment of amateurism is embraced. There are a number of possible outcomes impacting the game of hockey that could emerge from the further growth of the policies proposed by California.
SB-206 will become operative on January 1, 2023. It is expected to face legal challenge before then, as well as possible federal and NCAA legislative changes that could potentially render the decision moot. In the meantime, with the bill now being signed, the discussion is likely to begin in any states that haven’t already taken steps toward legislation of their own. In all likelihood, it won’t belong before a prominent college hockey state follows suit with changes to student-athlete publicity rights and the conversation will become front and center at many levels of the game.