Paying student athletes? The issue has become very real as a result of a newly passed California law – Senate Bill 206. This week on “In the Know,” producer Omar Said talks to Sports editor Sam Connon about why this law came about, what it means for athletes and how it will affect the future of collegiate athletics.
Omar Said: From the Daily Bruin, this is “In the Know.” I’m Omar Said. This week, we take a look at a new law in California that threatens to upend collegiate sports by putting dollars directly into the pockets of student athletes. Here with me today is the Daily Bruin’s Sports editor, Sam Connon.
OS: So, Sam, I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I guess my first question really is: How about you just tell me the entire story?
Sam Connon: All right, well, I guess a few weeks ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom appeared on LeBron James’ HBO show “The Shop” to sign a new bill that would change the future of collegiate athletics.
OS: So, this video: Can you set the scene for us?
SC: Yeah. So, we have LeBron James. We have Gov. Newsom, we have former UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi, WNBA legend Diana Taurasi and Ed O’Bannon, a former UCLA men’s basketball player who kind of started this whole movement over a decade ago.
OS: So those are a lot of really famous-sounding people. This sounds kind of like a big moment. Can you tell me a little bit more about what’s going on?
SC: Yeah, this is really an incredible moment for college sports one that could really change a lot, but it definitely didn’t start here.
OS: Okay. So, take us into the background of it. How did the story start and where did it start?
SC: Well, it all goes back to Ed O’Bannon, and I know this little anecdote. About 10 years ago, he was over at a friend’s house and his friend’s son was playing one of EA Sports NCAA basketball games. And the kid was playing in the game as UCLA. And he, O’Bannon was watching him and realized that one of the players on UCLA was wearing his 31 jersey, he was the same height and weight, same stats and tendencies and everything, basically a carbon copy of Ed O’Bannon, but with no name attached. And EA Sports, it never asked for O’Bannon’s permission on this.
Ed O’Bannon: Yeah, absolutely, and that was the big thing. I had moved on, and they were still making money off of, off of my likeness. I enjoyed being on a video game, but they didn’t ask me for it. And my friend who I was visiting at the time, he was like, you know, we paid X amount of dollars for this, and you didn’t get a penny.
SC: And basically, O’Bannon decided he was going to sue the NCAA for this because the way that NCAA rules work is that student athletes aren’t allowed to monetize their name, likeness and image which is what EA Sports was using.
OS: So, let me just interrupt you and I want to ask what are examples of name, likeness and image? How exactly do those things work?
SC: So if we just go one by one name, example of that would be a jersey like a UCLA jersey that says Thompson-Robinson on the back the school wouldn’t be able to produce that, and Dorian Thompson-Robinson, sophomore quarterback for UCLA, he wouldn’t be allowed to produce that and sell that on his own, either. And then image, is almost like Thompson-Robinson or any other student-athlete wouldn’t be able to be up on a billboard. Like if Subway wanted to do a billboard to put in Westwood Village, no college athlete could be on it. And then you go to likeness, and that goes back to the O’Bannon, EA Sports thing. When it’s basically a carbon copy of the student-athletes, without a name on it. They would imitate every meticulous detail about these student-athletes and kind of put together their likeness and then just stick a number on it. So EA Sports was using their likeness without their name, but that’s still not allowed.
OS: So, what happened when O’Bannon challenged this in court?
SC: Well, O’Bannon technically won in the O’Bannon v. NCAA case, but the outcome wasn’t completely in his favor. So the verdict basically required that the NCAA had to pay its student athletes more, more cost of living payments, I would say because there had been a lot of talk about student athletes going to bed hungry because the schools didn’t pay for their dining plans, or some certain kids who couldn’t get apartments for non-guaranteed housing schools. So, the NCAA had to give more money into room, board and dining plans and stuff like that to the student athletes, but they did not grant any access to name, image and likeness rights.
OS: So how did we get from there to this bill?
SC: So back in February, this bill was brought up in the State Senate. And after was written and went through a few drafts it passed 31 to four in May. And then it got through a subcommittee vote nine-zero in July, and then it went to the state assembly in September and passed unanimously 72 to zero. So that’s how it wound up on Gov. Newsom’s desk and obviously, there’s been almost unanimous support throughout the entire process. So, after Newsom went on LeBron’s show “The Shop,” he officially signed it into law that Sept. 30th.
Maverick Carter: Alright, well let’s do it.
LeBron James: It’s all you.
Gavin Newsom: You ready? Let’s do it man. Alright. It’s now a law in California.
SC: Well, it is a law. There’s no more lobbying from the NCAA or from the UC or any other schools that were against it. Because it’s already signed into law, and it’s projected to start and go into effect January 2023. And the NCAA has every opportunity to adjust its rules in the three years leading up to that, and other states will probably hop on board and make similar laws of their own or at least proposed them and there’s even rumblings of national progress towards this. But as of now, it’s going to be a law.
OS: Why do you think this is a good bill? That’s a good question. I don’t think I’ve asked you this. So yeah, why do you think this is a good bill?
SC: Well, I think it goes back to really just equality, to really boil it down, because as any student at UCLA or any other university across the country, you have the ability to kind of market yourself, make money yourself, work two jobs. If you’re working at a school paper, you can also be endorsed by Subway. If you’re working at the school store, you can also go and monetize your YouTube channel or perform a concert and get paid for it. The thing about the way that NCAA rules are now is that if you are under scholarship and playing an NCAA sport, you can’t monetize your YouTube channel. It has nothing to do with getting additional money from the school it is really more about just equal rights to every student, regardless of whether or not they play a sport.
GN: You can only imagine how they’re responding to this notion of name, image, likeness and the opportunity now to do what every other student in the university can legally do. And it’s an interesting fact, LeBron, the only people that sign away their rights, the only group that signs away that right are athletes.
OS: So, how do student athletes feel about this bill?
SC: They seem to be reacting pretty positively in the way that we’ve talked to them and interviews so far, they haven’t been too open about it in general, but there’s definitely support there. And then there’s obviously support from the outside from alumni and professional athletes. Whether that’s LeBron James, whether it’s Draymond Green, Josh Rosen, but especially Katelyn Ohashi, who was there when Newsom signed the bill. But she released an op-ed for The New York Times about when she went viral last year, and the headline was, “Everyone Made Money Off My NCAA Career Except Me.” And that’s kind of what this bill is addressing. Because these athletes aren’t asking for an extra stipend, they’re not asking for any kind of salary. They’re just asking for the opportunity to make money when another opportunity presents itself like it did with Ohashi.
Katelyn Ohashi: I mean, here’s the fame, but then, there’s no compensation, and it’s so crazy, like people are like, oh you must be so rich, and I’m like you must not know the NCAA right, but no one pays attention to that, like no one understands it, so when my routine went viral, Mark Emmert called me to like congratulate me, I’m like, you should be thanking me.
OS: And looking at college athletics it seems like the opportunities to make money are growing more and more, right?
SC: Yeah, I mean if you really just look at what what’s called the revenue sports, which is men’s basketball and football, the TV deals for those are out of control. The revenue everything is just through the roof. It just continues to grow and grow, and grow and even the smaller sports, depending on where you are, but gymnastics at UCLA and women’s basketball and baseball, softball are all kind of gaining steam in the public eye and student body. Not that they were unpopular before, but they’re gaining this kind of momentum that you have gymnasts who are marketable. You have softball players, baseball players, women’s basketball players who are marketable. And that’s not the case at every university. It’s typically your men’s basketball and football stars. But what makes UCLA a special case is that with all the winning and funding that all these programs have done and got it kind of opens up those avenues, it kind of opens up those teams and those players to a lot of attention that those sports don’t get at other schools.
OS: So, tell me more about the title of the op-ed. What does she mean by the fact that everybody made money off her career? So I get that she couldn’t make money off of it. But how did other people make money?
SC: Well, if you go back to January when Ohashi had this perfect 10 floor routine that went viral, had hundreds of millions of views. If you think about it, that video is marketing Katelyn Ohashi, UCLA gymnastics and NCAA gymnastics. And everyone started paying attention to all three of those more than they were before. And UCLA gymnastics had more attendance and more ticket sales, more TV viewership, same with NCAA gymnastics Pac-12 gymnastics. People cared about it more, they were spending more money on it, more time, it was talked about more, because of that singular floor routine. So, these other organizations, get to profit off that.
GN: They’re a little panicked, because they recognize they’re vulnerable. People are hitting this, not just in California but all across the country because the gig’s up. Billions and billions of dollars – 14 plus billion dollars goes to these universities, goes to these colleges, a billion plus revenue to the NCAA themselves, and the actual product, the folks that are putting their lives on the line, putting everything on the line are getting nothing.
SC: And Ohashi’s not asking for a cut of that profit. She’s just asking, well, you can make money when people pay attention to you and talk to you. And she’s going around on Good Morning America and all these national outlets, and she’s getting so much attention.
Robin Roberts: Now, what you have been waiting for, our GMA cover story – the UCLA gymnast whose floor routine scored a perfect 10 with judges and the internet, bringing joy to everyone who watched: Please welcome Katelyn Ohashi.
Kumail Nanjiani: We are here to present the ESPY Award for Best Play. And the winner is Katelyn Ohashi.
Michael Strahan: Gymnast and viral sensation Katelyn Ohashi, well, she ran off to get Sara some pancakes cause that’s what you asked for.
Sara Haines: Very important.
MS: They told me that she’s back and we should have her bring them on out so come on Katelyn, bring out those pancakes.
SH: Wow, Katelyn, these look amazing.
MS: Yeah, you’re not an intern, go ahead and sit down.
Hines Ward: UCLA gymnast Katelyn Ohashi, well she had it all. Check out this amazing floor routine at the Collegiate Challenge that went viral over the weekend. She gave us a little of Tina Turner and mixed in some Michael Jackson groove as well.
Patrick Snell: That video of your perfect 10 routine, you know the one I mean. It went viral, so viral – the best viral sports moment. How has it all been life-changing for you?
KO: Oh my gosh, well one I get opportunities like this, but on top of that I would say, just like ESPYs for instance, and getting even more ears to hear the messages that I’ve been trying to hear for so long.
SC: You’d think she would be able to flip that and turn that into sponsorships into a professional career into just monetizing it quicker and she wasn’t able to because of these rules.
OS: But to me, there’s one glaring flaw here. Doesn’t this mean that the athletes stop being amateurs? Isn’t that kind of the whole point of college sports?
SC: Well, if you ask the NCAA, yes, that’s the whole point. But this whole amateurism and misnomer is kind of fabricated to begin with, because you look at the Olympics, and that’s amateur athletes, or at least it was, and then they allowed professional athletes into the Olympics. And what do you know, they got much more entertaining. They got much more marketable and bigger when you start putting LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Michael Phelps, all these big names in the Olympics, but they’re not amateurs. And then the this student-athlete amateur connection that the NCAA preaches, if you really think about it, there’s no real reason for it. These schools want their teams to play really well. And the way they do that is by getting the best players. And I’m not saying that these schools need to pay their players, or that anyone who has done that in the past, that was a good thing, because it’s breaking the rules, whatever. But the major thing about this bill that is almost misunderstood is that these athletes, these student athletes aren’t getting paid by the university. They’re not getting paid by the NCAA, that is not going to happen under this. And it really just goes back to equality, because why should these students have less rights than a normal everyday average student who’s not playing sports, so you’re not really losing the amateurism. They’re not getting stipends or salaries once again, but the tough thing is, is that the NCAA, the way they write about it and talk about it, and the way that universities write about it and talk about it, kind of peddles this idea. They’re not outright saying that the Senate Bill 206 is going to result in colleges paying athletes but they’re not rejecting it either. They’re almost playing into people’s beliefs that that’s what this is about when it’s really about the NIL rights as opposed to salaries.
OS: So, you’re telling me that this has nothing to do with universities. At its core, this is just about the athletes’ relationship with private corporations outside the university?
SC: Yeah, if you look at UCLA, UCLA will not have to pay any additional money to any student-athlete, they will pay their scholarship and those cost of living benefits that Ed O’Bannon helped bring, but they’re not losing any money directly. If you want to look at the economic benefits and just weigh the pros and cons and extrapolate a bit and see how their relationship with private companies would be affected – that’s one thing. But no money is going from the university’s hands to athletes’ hands, that’s not happening. That’s not what this is about.
OS: So, what else is the NCAA saying about this bill?
GN: What the hell are you doing destroying college sports? Why are you going to destroy women? They all think this is the end of Title IX. They’re saying you’re destroying the purity of amateurism. Not once, did they talk about the needs of these kids.
SC: Well, the way that NCAA president Mark Emmert and other organizations have been talking about it, they’ve brought up a lot that women’s sports and non-revenue sports are going to suffer and could be dissolved, which is incredibly false. Because, no, the the funding from the university is not going to change. The bigger teams like football and men’s basketball aren’t going to be getting more funding. It’s not like they’re re-splitting the pie here. They’re not taking money away from those programs. They’re not taking money away from scholarships, they’re not taking money away from marketing or whatever else those teams and sports need. So it’s really just kind of blows my mind that the NCAA continues to peddle this when it has been proven by by lawyers and economists and former student athletes that that’s just not the case. Those sports will continue to exist as is and those athletes, the women, the smaller sport athletes will be able to market themselves just the same way that football and men’s basketball players will.
OS: So, is there some sort of middle ground that the NCAA and the state of California can sort of meet on for this issue?
SC: Well, the thing is that Senate Bill 206 is already a law. So it really has to do with the NCAA adjusting its policies to kind of work in agreement with the new law, because the law is not getting revoked. That’s not what’s going to happen. But what could happen is the NCAA could change the rules nationwide. So California doesn’t get some sort of advantage. And there have been discussions of deferred compensation. So basically, the athletes would be allowed to make this money while they’re in college, but it would be put into almost a locked bank account until they graduate or until they leave the school, just to kind of avoid corruption while they’re at the school. But even then, there are so many weird loopholes around that that we don’t really know how plausible that would be. And how right it would be to withhold private payment from these athletes while they’re at school. But there there’s definitely room for the NCAA to work. They haven’t really given specifics, but they did open up an investigation into the issue back in May. They put a team together to kind of work through what they could do about NIL rights. And they haven’t released any findings yet, but they are definitely working to see what they can do on a national level to address the issue.
OS: Okay, so given that, what’s to stop the NCAA from just banning California entirely instead of trying to find a compromise?
SC: Well, that’s what Emmert and the NCAA have almost threatened California with when they were lobbying against the bill, and they were trying to get Newsom’s attention. That’s what they were saying that we’re going to do. They were hinting that they could ban California schools from NCAA events, but the thing is, lawyers looked at this response by the NCAA and said that the second the NCAA made that threat official, or made that a policy in writing, California would counter, they would sue. It would be antitrust laws that the NCAA would be violating. And they would basically be torn down to the ground. So the NCAA is probably bluffing in terms of that threat, or at the very least, they should be bluffing, because if they try to do it, it will not end well for them.
GN: I don’t want to say this is checkmate, but this is a major problem for the NCAA. The minute we sign this, all of a sudden, now they have to deal with California.
OS: So, would this have been any different if it was a state other than California that passed this bill?
SC: Well, California was kind of the first to jump on this issue. But North Carolina, New York, other states have already started proposing legislation to deal with the NIL issue in college sports. And it’s not like the NCAA can ban them all. It’s kind of, California is almost like, the start of an avalanche – like a little snowball that gets bigger and bigger and bigger and eventually, the NCAA is not going to be able to stop it.
GN: It’s going to initiate dozens of other states to introduce similar legislation, and it’s going to change college sports for the better by having now the interests, finally, of the athletes, on par with the interests of the institutions. Now, we’re rebalancing that power arrangement.
SC: But just looking at California on its own, that would probably be the last state NCAA wants to ban, because you have Stanford who has the most national championships in NCAA history, UCLA who’s only a few behind – they’re number two. And USC is a sizable gap there, but they’re still number three. So you have the three most winningest schools in collegiate sport history. And the last thing the NCAA would want to do is hold them out.
Commentator 1: UCLA – the top ranked team in the country No. 1 in the West – trailing by a point. Julian Winfield, who sat out most of the first half in foul trouble scored the go-ahead basket. One last try for the Bruins of UCLA to get into the Sweet 16. Knocked out last year in the first round by Tulsa, they don’t wanna lose this one. Edney going the distance – UCLA!
Commentator 2: Takes the spike and it’s a touchdown! Woah! Jordan Lasley, the legend of Josh Rosen, in full bloom!
Commentator 3: Rachel Garcia, with the biggest swing of her life, and she walks the Bruins into the championship for the first time in 9 years!
Commentator 4: UCLA will win on a superb performance, what a thrill for the Bruins, their seventh NCAA championship on a night that they had to be perfect, and Peng Peng Lee delivers two perfect tens when they needed them most.
OS: All right, ladies and gentlemen, I guess that’s everything we have for today. We’ll see you in 2023 when we get back together to discuss the effects of this bill as it kicks in. In the meantime, Sam, do you have any anything else to add?
SC: Not really well, thanks for having me. This is definitely a big moment for college sports. It’s fun to cover.
OS: Yeah, it was great to have you. Thanks a lot.
OS: So out of all the athletes here at UCLA, whose shoes do you most want to buy?
SC: Oh, easily Shareef O’Neal. I don’t know what it would look like but who knows? Maybe it had some, could have some kind of anime theme to it. It could be wild colors. I don’t know. But I definitely trust Shareef to design the best shoe.
OS: From the Daily Bruin, I’m Omar Said. This, is “In the Know.” “In the Know” was produced this week by me, Omar Said, with production assistance from Edgerrin Panaligan. Special thanks to Sam Connon. Our theme song was created by Keshav Tadimeti. This episode was edited by Jacob Preal. Omar Said is the executive producer. “In the Know” is brought to you by Daily Bruin Radio.