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Volume 23 No. 13
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California governor speaks out on Fair Pay To Play Act, NCAA, next steps on NIL

California Gov. Gavin Newsom says the ball is literally in the NCAA’s court.
Photo: getty images
California Gov. Gavin Newsom says the ball is literally in the NCAA’s court.
Photo: getty images
California Gov. Gavin Newsom says the ball is literally in the NCAA’s court.
Photo: getty images

California Gov. Gavin Newsom turned the state’s Fair Pay to Play Act, which will allow student athletes to sell their name, image and likeness, into law on Sept. 30 in a very public way, signing the bill on Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James’ HBO show “The Shop.” Praised by student rights activists, Newsom has become one of the first major political figures to take a strong stance against NCAA restrictions on student athletes’ earning abilities. Since he signed the bill, 18 states have proposed similar legislation. 

Newsom spoke with Sports Business Journal about the developments. 

Why do you think this is happening?
NEWSOM: California is too big to ignore. We are not a small, isolated state. We are too consequential and despite the NCAA’s initial threats to withhold tournament participation, threatened litigation, I think they saw the writing on the wall. 

Have they backed off that completely?
NEWSOM: They haven’t, formally. Informally, I reached out to [NCAA President Mark] Emmert, extending not a clenched fist but an open hand, extending a willingness to work with the NCAA. I rejected their efforts to delay the bill and to have me veto it as just another delay tactic. Had I not signed that bill, I can assure you [the NCAA] would not have moved forward with a unanimous decision two weeks later. We need and we continue to need to negotiate with them from a position of strength, otherwise they are not going to move forward.

People have tried and failed to pass similar bills in the past. Do you think the fact you signed the bill so publicly, on LeBron’s show, has something to do with what we are seeing now? 
NEWSOM: I’d like to think so, but let’s be honest, LeBron James’ participation and willingness to engage was profoundly important. And his willingness not just two send out a tweet, and to have me on the show. … I think a combination of the two, perhaps — a state as large as California and someone with a a platform as large and consequential as LeBron James — when those two come together that is pretty potent. 

Do you think that had something to do with the NCAA issuing its statement about forming a plan to allow student athletes NIL rights?
NEWSOM: Yes, I think they saw these bills being introduced in other states. They saw the vast majority of pundits and observers coming out on the same side as California, public opinion overwhelming [in favor of it], and I think even critically, even their own conscience, meaning I think they knew what the right thing to do was. … And therein now the great challenge is application of this. We were sober about that, as you know, by extending our mandate to 2023. They have extended theirs to 2021. We wanted to put pressure, but we also had to engage directly with them to see how we can fast track and get a nationwide application here so we don’t have these patchworks of different state rules and regs.

Some states, Florida and Michigan, at least, are looking at passing something that goes into effect as soon as the summer of 2020. If they do that, would California move up when this becomes law?
NEWSOM: We certainly could. This ball, literally and figuratively, is in the NCAA’s court. On the basis of that example, they don’t have time to waste. If they are going to slow-walk this, they are going to pay a huge price. Not just in terms of public opinion, but they will be in litigation probably in a half-dozen states within the next year. … And so, it’s in their interests to figure this out and do so quickly. 

But you’re right, if the other states move forward that would put pressure on California to fast-track it. There is nothing to suggest we won’t if we feel it’s helpful, but there is nothing to suggest it’s necessary at this moment because we are seeing some movement by the NCAA and that’s encouraging.

NIL rights will let Florida players connect more directly to fans in the marketplace.
Photo: getty images
NIL rights will let Florida players connect more directly to fans in the marketplace.
Photo: getty images
NIL rights will let Florida players connect more directly to fans in the marketplace.
Photo: getty images

What do you mean, NCAA movement? How does that affect the law that was already passed in California? 
NEWSOM: The idea is if they figure this out and they come up with a 50-state solution that meets the terms that California set out as a baseline, and if they do that, I think it will then raise the bar for all the other states and we can begin to land this plane in terms of resolving the potentially conflicting statutes in different states. 

What California won’t do is we won’t roll back our principles. We want our principles to be the table stakes for the discussion, and if they understand that, then I think they will be in a position to negotiate with these other states and elected officials, as well as with their members and get us in a position well before these other laws go into effect.

It is in their interest to get ahead of this. This train has left the station, they are going to get run over. 

That’s interesting. You think the NCAA will come to the table and negotiate and bring this patchwork together?
NEWSOM: I think they’d better. It’s in their interest. If they don’t, they have an existential problem. … They just don’t get to be what they themselves want to be because there’s now accountability. It’s a new day. I think they forgot who they were, who they are. They lost touch with their athletes.

Is there any chance the NCAA can roll things back to where we were before these laws were introduced or passed?
NEWSOM: No. We won’t allow that. We have the resources and we have the resourcefulness as a state. The NCAA has met its match.