The NCAA warned California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday that allowing college athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness would be “unconstitutional” and would upend the balance of college sports in a letter asking him to reject the passage of a state bill that would make it easier for players to make money.
The state Assembly on Monday voted 72-0 to pass the bill, which is championed by many athletes in the collegiate and professional ranks, such as Lebron James. The state Senate passed the measure Wednesday 39-0.
California is home to 58 NCAA-member schools, the NCAA said, including powerhouse programs at USC, Stanford and UCLA. Newsom has 30 days to sign or veto the legislation. If he does nothing, the bill becomes law.
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The NCAA is the top governing body for college sports. Membership is voluntary. Athletes can get valuable scholarships, but the NCAA has long banned paying athletes to preserve the academic missions of colleges and universities.
“It would erase the critical distinction between college and professional athletics,” the NCAA Board Of Governors said in a letter to the Democratic governor. “These outcomes are untenable and would negatively impact more than 24,000 California student-athletes across three divisions.”
Ohio State President Michael Drake, who chairs the board of governors, told USA Today that the association would consider legal action if the bill becomes law.
The bill would allow college athletes to hire agents and be paid for their image, likeness and names.
“Let's be real. College sports is a multibillion-dollar industry,” said Sen. Nancy Skinner, a Democrat who authored the bill. “Perhaps some athletes would finish their college degree before they went pro if we allowed this.”
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California universities and the NCAA would also be barred from prohibiting athletes from taking money. The law would take effect in 2023.
The Pac-12 conference, which includes USC, UCLA and Stanford, sided with the NCAA and asked the state legislature to delay debate on the bill.
“We all want to protect and support our student-athletes, and the Pac-12 has played a leadership role in national reforms for student-athletes over the past years,” the NCAA said. “The question is what’s the best way to continue to support our student-athletes. We think having more information and informed views will be helpful.”
The debate over paying college athletes has raged in recent years as some schools rake in millions from their athletic programs — mostly from football and basketball. Many college basketball athletes have left school early to sign lucrative NBA contracts.
The league now requires players to be at least one year removed from high school before entering the draft.
The NCAA has a history of coming down hard on players for receiving compensation or gifts of any kind.
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Donald De La Haye, a former University of Central Florida kicker, had his football scholarship taken away by the school in 2017 because of the revenue he was generating from his YouTube channel. The NCAA determined his videos were a violation of eligibility rules, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel got into trouble with the NCAA for allegedly signing autographs for money. He was suspended for the first half of the first game of the 2013 season for violating an NCAA bylaw about athletes' use of names and images, but it was later made clear Manziel didn’t receive money for the autographs.
Fox News' Ryan Gaydos and The Associated Press contributed to this report.