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A referee holds a basketball with the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament logo on it during a game between the University of Georgia and the University of Kentucky in the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament in the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri on Friday, March 9, 2018. (Photo/Tony Walsh)

A new California law signed Monday by Democratic Gov. Gary Newsom would allow college athletes to profit off of endorsements and hire agents. The law, which is set to go into effect Jan. 1, 2023, goes against NCAA rules, setting up a possible legal battle in the future. The NCAA warned that it could blur the line between collegiate and professional sports and give California universities an unfair recruiting advantage and has said it is looking at possible options.

Despite the NCAA’s protestations, California’s law is the correct move to defend players’ rights and ensure they are receiving fair compensation for their work.

The NCAA ban on athletes’ profiting off of their likenesses has been a point of contention for a long time. Many high-profile players have faced punishments from violating the NCAA’s rules, including former Georgia running back Todd Gurley, who was suspended after he received over $3,000 in cash from memorabilia dealers.

From a civil liberties perspective, the NCAA’s stance is troubling. Because of the NCAA’s monopoly on collegiate sports, it can force student-athletes to accept restrictions not placed on other students. The organization’s decision to prohibit students from leveraging their personal clout and hiring an agent to help guide their careers feels corrupt and morally wrong.

In addition, the NCAA’s policy places an unfair financial strain on student-athletes. Participating in sports is nearly a full-time job. According to the NCAA, 2005-2006 Division I athletes said they spent an average of 35.4 hours a week on their sport. Interestingly, Division I football players said they spent nearly 40 hours a week on academics and nearly 45 hours a week on football. The huge time commitment severely limits their ability to get a job to support themselves financially. Money can be tight for many student-athletes, especially first-generation college students. According to a 2016 study by the NCAA, 56% of first-generation students are worried that their financial situation could affect their ability to earn a degree. For students struggling financially, earning a quick paycheck for advertising a local brand could mean the difference between being able to afford rent and tuition or having to drop out.

This topic has become especially important as we learn more about the physical dangers and pitfalls associated with playing sports. For example, anyone who has watched enough football knows it’s a brutal sport, but new data show the lasting impact the sport can have on players. According to a 2019 study in Science Advances, college football players can sustain brain damage after a single season, even if they did not suffer a concussion. Indeed, injuries can happen at any time, possibly derailing a promising athletic career and leaving student-athletes with an uncertain future and without financial security.

Collegiate athletics is a cherished aspect of the college experience, but student-athletes are often disadvantaged by unjust policies. California’s new law is a strong step toward toward returning rights to players and making collegiate sports a more equitable institution.

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