What the Fair Pay to Play Act Means for College Sports

On September 30, 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom formally signed the Fair Pay to Play Act into law with LeBron James and Ed O’Bannon sitting alongside him. The signing took place in a barbershop in Los Angeles affiliated with James’s HBO show The Shop: Uninterrupted. 

California is the very first state in the country to have a legal right to pay college athletes for the promotional use of their identities. In college sports, the Act is considered a game-changer.


Unfortunately, it does not reform the present framework, as its critics say. Read on to find out more about the Fair Pay to Play Act and what it means for the future of athletic compensation and college sports.

What the Fair Pay to Play Act Means for College Sports

What the Fair Pay to Play Act Means for College Sports

This act makes it unlawful for California colleges to refuse privileges for their student-athletes seeking credit for their names, pictures, and likenesses being used. More succinctly put, the Act provides a right for college athletes to benefit from their identities.

The Act also enables college athletes to employ agents and other associates to help negotiate and obtain business opportunities for them. Under the Act, California schools’ college athletes can negotiate for their avatars to be featured in college sports video games with video game publishers.


They can also be compensated to sponsor young athletes’ summer camps and sign sponsorship agreements with clothing companies, sports drinks, auto dealerships, and various other firms that would pay for the public approval stamp of an athlete.


The Act does not, to be clear, grant a right for college athletes to be paid by their institutions. The Act instead discusses how their names are used by different businesses. It also includes restrictions that aim to reduce how college sports may be disrupted.

The main disadvantage is that if it clashes with school sponsorship, a college athlete cannot sign a deal with a business for the use of their name, picture, or likeness. For instance, if their school already has an agreement with Nike, an athlete couldn’t sign a contract to wear and promote Adidas footwear.


Athletes will finally have the right to earn cash on their Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL), particularly basketball and football players, but the law does not establish any structures that will enable them to profit from their work.

Through sponsorship deals, for example, it puts the burden on those same athletes to find funding. Still, in a system that prohibits players from receiving any above-the-table money, it is a substantial improvement and a corrective step.

What the Fair Pay to Play Act Means for College Sports

Possible Changes Between Now and Implementation of The Act

Although the Act is a watershed moment in California and has inspired trailblazing lawmakers in other states to adopt similar legislation, California college athletes will not encounter adjustments to their college experience soon enough. 

Currently, seniors, juniors, and sophomores will not benefit in any way, whereas existing freshmen will only experience the effect of the Act throughout their senior year’s spring semester. This is because the Act doesn’t go into effect until January 1, 2023.

At present, the athletes in middle school or junior high school, are those who stand to benefit the most financially from the Act. After this Act is implemented in 2023, they will begin college. 

In 2023, the Act may not be as revolutionary as it would seem in 2019. The NCAA’s proposed voluntary efforts to loosen the rules of amateurism and proposed federal legislation that would strip away the discretion of states on this subject could make the Act less impactful or even unlawful.

What the Fair Pay to Play Act Means for College Sports

Bottom Line

Whether it can overcome unavoidable legal challenges is the most critical barrier to the Act. California schools, the Pac-12 Conference, the Mountain West Conference, and the NCAA all have the power to question the lawfulness of the Act. 

Above everything, if you’re a huge fan of college sports, gear up; college sports are changing with the times.