The state of California made a statement on September 30th when it made a direct challenge to the NCAA. Governor Gavin Newsom, a former regent to many of California’s public universities, signed into law California Senate Bill (SB) 206 which will allow student-athletes to profit off of their likeness and potential endorsement offerings beginning in 2023. Prior to the bill being signed, the NCAA immediately opposed this measure, calling it an “unconstitutional” law that will “upend [a] level playing field”. This has emboldened a long-standing battle between the NCAA and the student-athletes to new, unforeseen heights.

The debut

Newsom signed the bill while visiting LeBron James’ popular HBO show The Shop, stating that he felt it was a pivotal point in the process to nudge the NCAA in the right direction. It was a surprise to many, as the move was not publicized to the degree that it sprawled all over social media and television. It was met with great support from James, who stated the signing was exactly the thing his show is for:

“This is the No. 1 reason why we created this platform,” James said after the bill was signed. “To be able to have moments like this where we got the governor of California signing a bill to allow athletes in college [to be paid.]”

Using such a platform, obviously, was a power move to get the signing in front of as many eyes as possible. Newsom understood the optics of this situation. Having thousands of viewers tuned into an unexpected and controversial action puts the focus heavily on the issue. However, it gives Newsom the upper hand by getting his side of the story in first. 

“I don’t want to say this is checkmate, but this is a major problem for the NCAA,” Newsom said. “It’s going to initiate dozens of other states to introduce similar legislation, and it’s going to change college sports for the better by having now the interest finally of the athletes on par with the interests of the institutions. Now, we’re re-balancing that power arrangement.”

The first point by Newsom is a tremendous one. The measure absolutely sets a standard for future legislation in different states. By putting it in front of so many eyes, it also helps to support the notion that re-balancing is actually happening. The NCAA released their response almost immediately to the signing, stating that they believe “changes are needed” to support student-athletes, but the approach of differing laws state by state makes an even playing field “unattainable”.