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Sun, Oct. 20

Kobritz: California governor does the right thing
BEYOND THE LINES

California Governor Gavin Newsom did the expected last month when he signed a bill allowing college athletes in the state to profit from their own name, image and likeness.

The law, which doesn’t take effect until January 1, 2023, is a direct challenge to the NCAA’s (outdated) mode of operation. But California won’t be alone in their effort. Newsom acknowledged as much, saying the legislation would “…initiate dozens of other states to introduce similar legislation…” Close behind are South Carolina, New York, New Mexico, Minnesota, Washington, Colorado and Illinois where legislators have introduced similar bills or are on the verge of doing so.

The federal government also intends to jump on the train, with Representative Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH), a former football player at Ohio State, announcing his intention to propose a similar bill in Congress.

The NCAA, in a not-so-subtle attempt to intimidate Newsom, sent the Governor a letter calling the new law “unconstitutional.” The message was clear: If you sign the bill, we will sue the state. That hardly comes as a surprise given the organization’s long history of using the court system to delay the implementation of or attempt to overturn laws that it disagrees with.

The bill’s author, Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), was unfazed. She sent a message of her own: “We have had many legal opinions that the NCAA cannot retaliate against California. To do so would be a violation of antitrust law.”

Despite fearmongering by the NCAA and its representatives, California’s law will not result in athletes becoming employees of their schools. It merely allows them to make money from such things as endorsements and their autographs, no different than a music major who is on scholarship. Therein lies the NCAA’s biggest fear: Sponsorship dollars that would otherwise go to the governing body and member institutions may instead end up in athletes’ pockets.

NCAA president Mark Emmert made it clear if the law went into effect, California schools would become ineligible to participate in NCAA championships. In support of that position, the governing body trotted out its most loyal apologizers, including Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, who emphasized the potential consequences to California schools under the new law.

Smith is co-chairing a panel formed by the NCAA to study the name-image-and-likeness issue after it became apparent the California bill would gain traction. He told USA TODAY the differences between the state law and NCAA bylaws would prevent California schools from remaining NCAA members. Therefore, he could not schedule games against schools in that state after Jan. 1, 2023. Nevertheless, Newsom remained firm.

Despite the proliferation of legislation and weight of public opinion against the NCAA’s position, don’t expect it to change voluntarily; but change it will. The walls are closing in.

A new world order will arise, which will no doubt bring new challenges and perhaps uncertainties. But at least the athletes, whose physical sacrifices are the primary reason behind the billions generated annually by the NCAA and its member institutions, will be able to profit from their efforts.

Jordan Kobritz is a non-practicing attorney and CPA, former Minor League Baseball team owner and current investor in MiLB teams. He is a professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog, sportsbeyondthelines.com. The opinions contained in this column are the author’s. Kobritz can be reached by email at jordan.kobritz@cortland.edu.

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