California Gov. Gavin Newsom talks with reporters at the 52nd Annual Native American Day in Sacramento, Calif., Friday, Sept. 27, 2019.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom talks with reporters at the 52nd Annual Native American Day in Sacramento, Calif., Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

When California governor Gavin Newsom sat alongside NBA star LeBron James and signed Senate Bill 206 into law Monday — allowing the state’s college student-athletes to be compensated for their names, images and likenesses beginning in 2023 — he made a declaration about what the action meant for the future of the NCAA, not only in his state but also the country.

“I don’t want to say this is checkmate, but this is a major problem for the NCAA,” Newsom said on “The Shop,” a talk show produced and hosted by James, among others. “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 interest finally of the athletes on par with the interests of the institution. Now, we’re rebalancing that power arrangement.”

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Whether Maryland proves to be among those dozens is yet to be seen. Senate Bill 206, also known as the Fair Pay to Play Act passed through California’s legislature unanimously, but when Del. Brooke Lierman (D-Baltimore) attempted to reform how the state of Maryland handled student-athlete welfare after the June 2018 death of University of Maryland football player Jordan McNair, she eventually amended her bill. Lierman’s original bill proposed giving Maryland’s college athletes the right to unionize but was amended to create a commission to study how to best ensure fair treatment of student-athletes.

Lierman said by phone Monday she would “absolutely” support legislation similar to California’s new law making its way to Maryland.

“I think it is past time for state legislatures to step up to the plate and ensure that our student-athletes have a fair deal when they enroll in state universities and colleges and participate in our athletic programs,” Lierman said, “but I think the issue of fairly treating our student-athletes in public universities and colleges is larger than the issue of image and likeness.

“I'd like Maryland to take a deep look at what we should be doing to make sure our athletes are being treated fairly and that the imbalance of power is corrected here in Maryland."

James, who went straight to the NBA out of high school, said on “The Shop” that he partly didn’t go to college because of the lack of compensation he would’ve received.

“Part of the reason why I went to the NBA was to get my mom out of the situation she was in,” James said on the show. “I couldn’t have done that if I would’ve stepped on a college campus.”

Fellow NBA star Draymond Green told reporters Monday he hopes the law will force the “dictatorship” of the NCAA to change its rules.

“We spent so much time in college broke, with no money," Green said. “Yet everybody else was living very well, universities making a ton of money off your likeness. It is the most bankrupt model.”

However, the mother of a current Maryland basketball player worries about the impact the law will have on college teams. Lisa Smith, mother of Terps sophomore forward Jalen Smith, said in an email that she believes the Fair Pay to Play Act and any future similar laws will encourage players to focus more on their potential worth than their teams’ overall successes.

“I think that this type of law will create a dysfunctional team where everyone will be trying to play individual ball to receive higher compensation,” Lisa Smith said in her email. “Not everyone will play professionally and there are a lot of great players who were never pros. I also think how it will impact families is that they won’t get to see their child play due to to the emphasis placed on individual talents.

“Parents will be more vocal about why more plays aren’t being [called] for their kid and why their [kids] aren’t being included in the offense. Coaches will have to adapt a whole new style of coaching that caters to individual basketball vs. team basketball.”

Maryland sophomore Jalen Smith, a Mount Saint Joseph graduate, has bulked up ahead of his second season with the Terps.
Maryland sophomore Jalen Smith, a Mount Saint Joseph graduate, has bulked up ahead of his second season with the Terps. (Maryland Athletics)

The NCAA issued a statement after Newsom’s signing of the California bill that said the law “already is creating confusion for current and future student-athletes, coaches, administrators and campuses, and not just in California.” A University of Maryland representative was not immediately available for comment.

“As a membership organization, the NCAA agrees changes are needed to continue to support student-athletes, but improvement needs to happen on a national level through the NCAA’s rules-making process,” the NCAA’s statement read. “We will consider next steps in California while our members move forward with ongoing efforts to make adjustments to NCAA name, image and likeness rules that are both realistic in modern society and tied to higher education.

“As more states consider their own specific legislation related to this topic, it is clear that a patchwork of different laws from different states will make unattainable the goal of providing a fair and level playing field for 1,100 campuses and nearly half a million student-athletes nationwide.”

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The executive director of the National Collegiate Players Association, a group that co-sponsored the California bill and advocates for college sports reform, said in a statement that “the NCAA will get on board or be plunged into irrelevance.”

“This is the beginning of the end of the second-class citizenship NCAA sports imposes on college athletes,” said Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA football player. “College athletes deserve the same economic rights and freedoms afforded to other students and citizens. We are now calling on other states to do the same and are taking steps to make sure it happens. Players everywhere deserve equal rights.”

One possible side effect of states having differing laws is the schools in states that allow student-athletes to profit might receive advantages in recruiting. For instance, a top recruit torn between Pac-12 programs Oregon and Southern California might decide on the latter because of the potential for endorsements.

Presented with the hypothetical of Virginia having some version of the Fair Pay to Play Act and Maryland not, Lisa Smith said she believes her son, a five-star recruit out of Mount Saint Joseph, would’ve still chosen to stay in state, but she added, “It would be crazy to say ... [the possibility to be compensated] would have no impact on his decision.”

Although Senate Bill 206 would allow California college student-athletes to receive endorsements from major companies, they could also benefit from smaller-scale endeavors such as youth coaching and making YouTube videos.

A representative for Baltimore-based Under Armour, among the world’s leaders in producing athletic wear and equipment, was not available for comment Monday. But CEO Kevin Plank, a former University of Maryland football player, said in an interview with CNBC in mid-September that Under Armour is a “values-led company” with the top of those values being “love athletes.”

Plank declined to say whether Under Armour would dive into the business of endorsing individual college athletes. In 2016, Under Armour signed UCLA and California, two of the universities affected by Senate Bill 206, to 15- and 10-year apparel contracts, respectively. As part of the legislation, athletes cannot sign endorsement deals that conflict with their school’s existing contracts. If a school has a contract with Under Armour, athletes at that school could not sign endorsement deals with a competitor, such as Nike or Adidas.

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“I do think there’s athletes that are driving incredible value for those institutions, and frankly, they should be fairly compensated,” Plank told CNBC. “And I’m not sure that’s exactly the case today.

"We back the athlete.”

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