Home > News > California’s ‘Fair Pay to Play’ law for college athletes has other states racing to join up. Here’s why.
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California’s ‘Fair Pay to Play’ law for college athletes has other states racing to join up. Here’s why.

Even the NCAA is changing its rules on athlete pay.

- November 18, 2019

A new California law called the Fair Pay to Play Act (FPTP) will allow college athletes to make money from endorsement deals for the first time. Similar laws are now being introduced across the country. That rapid spread has forced the National Collegiate Athletic Association, which governs college sports, to start writing rules that would allow college athletes to profit.

Despite the NCAA’s announcement, states are continuing to introduce and pass FPTP laws of their own. That’s because states are looking for a leg up in recruiting top athletes; their compensation introduces a new economic prize over which to compete.

The academic research on what’s called “policy diffusion” offers insight into why this new law is being widely considered.

How quickly is Fair Pay to Play spreading?

FPTP prohibits athletic associations and conferences from denying athletes the opportunity to profit from their name, image or likeness, referred to as “NIL.” Under the new law, college athletes can hire state-licensed agents to negotiate business ventures and secure brand endorsements. FPTP does not allow athletes to be compensated directly by the schools they play for, nor does it allow athletes to have sponsorships that conflict with their schools’ sponsorships. The bill garnered bipartisan support, passing the California State Senate and Assembly unanimously and was signed by the governor on HBO’s “The Shop.”

Whites oppose — and blacks support — paying college athletes when they’re thinking about race

Although it doesn’t go into effect until 2023, FPTP has already shaken up the college sports industry. While college sports have grown in popularity and profitability, athletes have not shared in the wealth. In some cases, the lost income for student athletes is huge. One study calculated that Tim Tebow’s 2008 season at the University of Florida was worth $2.5 million.

Because of FPTP, star players will now have to weigh endorsement opportunities when deciding where to play. Taiwan Johnson, a former Arkansas football player, explained that FPTP would have changed his recruitment, saying, “I was being recruited by a California school. … After my Arkansas visit, I scratched it off the list. Now, I probably wouldn’t.” A father of a top football recruit told the Arizona Republic that FPTP “open[s] up the bidding war. This is a slippery slope that probably doesn’t end well.” More widely shared wealth has the potential to grow the industry as well. Companies like Nike and Adidas could generate millions in jersey sales of student athletes they’ve partnered with.

To remain competitive for their share of athletic talent and sports revenue, states have quickly introduced their own versions of the law. Since California adopted FPTP, similar bills have been or will be introduced in 16 states. Such bills already look likely to pass in Florida and New York.

Why do some policies spread so quickly?

“Policy diffusion” is what happens when policies adopted in one place are then introduced and adopted elsewhere. In a federal system like that of the United States, states are “laboratories of democracy” free to experiment with new policies. Sometimes these policies catch on and spread, as has happened recently with minimum wage increases, marijuana legalization and “right to work” laws.

One reason policies spread is competition. States adopt policies to attract resources away from other states or to prevent their own resources from leaving. The most prominent example of competition is the spread of state lotteries.

For decades, the lottery was viewed as legalized gambling that should be rejected on moral grounds. Recently, a Christian leader in Alabama discussed efforts to oppose legalized gambling, saying he was “reminding evangelicals of why we are opposed to gambling, which means teaching a biblical view of economic stewardship and a biblical view of concern for the poor.”

Despite this opposition, once the first state decided to adopt the lottery — New Hampshire in 1964 — it quickly spread across other states. Why? If people could buy a ticket and strike it rich in the state next door, that meant states would lose out on revenue unless they also allowed people to play the lottery within their own borders. New Hampshire’s nearby neighbors, like New York, followed suit soon after. Today, only a few states do not have the lottery.

Like the lottery, FPTP appears to be spreading quickly because states’ desire to compete will overcome organized opposition. As Chris Welch, an Illinois state legislator, said, “My goal is to get [FPTP] passed into law so that we’re on a level playing field with California going into the recruiting season.”

Should college athletes profit from endorsements? White Americans are split by racial attitudes.

Here’s the evidence

If competition is indeed driving the spread of FPTP, then the states with the most to lose should be the quickest to act. An initial look at the data supports this. The states that have already or will introduce FPTP have a higher-than-average number of Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) football programs.

FPTP’s rapid spread already has had consequences. Michael Drake, the NCAA board chairman, sought to “embrace change” when announcing the organization’s decision to explore athlete pay, recognizing the futility of resisting the tide away from amateurism. But the NCAA’s decision is thin on details, and critics say it will likely fall short of the rights California’s law grants. Pressure is still building in football-fanatic states like Texas to adopt FPTP.

Unless the NCAA applies a uniform standard that meets or exceeds California’s, states will probably continue to pass laws that they hope will bring a recruiting advantage. Toward that end, New York’s proposed bill would require schools to divide 15 percent of any sports-ticket revenue among student athletes. Expect such state-by-state competition for athletic dollars to continue.

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Roshaun Colvin is a political science MA student at Oklahoma State University.

Joshua Jansa is an assistant professor of political science at Oklahoma State University.