NCAA could ban California colleges from bowl games and tournaments over proposed athlete pay

The president of the NCAA has warned that California’s universities could be barred from championship games if lawmakers pass a bill allowing student athletes to profit from their likeness.

The ban could cost universities millions of dollars in revenue, and expose them to NCAA fines.

NCAA President Mark Emmert’s letter to lawmakers aims to discourage them from passing the “Fair Pay to Play Act,” which would allow college athletes to receive compensation for things like brand sponsorships or signing with an agent. It would ban colleges from punishing student athletes for earning that kind of compensation.

The bill by Sens. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, and Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, passed the Senate last month by a vote of 31 to 5. It’s scheduled to appear before an Assembly committee this week.

The NCAA fears it would distort national competition and undermine the nonprofit organization’s rules, according to USA Today.

“We recognize all of the efforts that have been undertaken to develop this bill in the context of complex issues related to the current collegiate model that have been the subject of litigation and much national debate,” Emmert wrote, according to USA Today. “Nonetheless, when contrasted with current NCAA rules, as drafted the bill threatens to alter materially the principles of intercollegiate athletics and create local differences that would make it impossible to host fair national championships. As a result, it likely would have a negative impact on the exact student-athletes it intends to assist.”

Skinner and Bradford wrote the bill to help student athletes pay expenses beyond tuition, they said. Today, the NCAA bans student athletes from receiving compensation beyond the “cost of attendance,” and it prohibits student athletes from signing with agents.

“For many student athletes, the total cost of attendance isn’t enough to provide for themselves or their families,” Skinner and Bradford said in a statement supporting the bill. Senate Bill 206 “allows college athletes to hire an agent and make money off their own name, image, likeness or athletic reputation. Athletes will now have a financial avenue to provide for their families without facing loss of their athletic scholarship.”

Before Emmert sent his letter, California lawmakers anticipated potentially harsh consequences over the proposal. A California Senate analysis of the bill noted that colleges could be banned from the NCAA, forced to forfeit wins or fined if they fail to comply with NCAA bylaws.

Schools in the University of California system estimate they could face fines totaling up to $1.8 million if the bill passes, while fines could total up to $5.3 million for schools in the California State University system.

In addition, the NCAA generates as much as $15 million in revenue for the CSU system that could be lost if the championship games are restricted, according to a legislative analysis of the bill conducted by Senate staff.

“The UC indicates revenue losses for being out of compliance with the NCAA as well, but the actual figures are unknown and would vary based on campus and conference affiliation,” according to the bill analysis.

The National College Players Association and antitrust litigation firm OSKR, support the bill, as well as several unions and the University of California Student Association.

The bill is opposed by both the UC and CSU systems, the University of Southern California, Stanford University and the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities.

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Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for the Sacramento Bee. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.