Steve Berkowitz, USA TODAY
Published 4:57 p.m. ET Sept. 30, 2019 | Updated 5:15 p.m. ET Sept. 30, 2019
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It’s hard to imagine a more perfect – or, depending on your point of view, disastrous — combination of people and circumstances that led to Monday’s enactment of a California law that will make it easier for college athletes in the state to make money from their names, images and likenesses.
There’s a white, female legislator from Berkeley. There’s a black, male legislator from Southern California. There’s a state with a gigantic economy, and a track record of willingness to set the national agenda, whether on car emissions or gender-equity in pay.
And at the end of it all, there’s a media-savvy, telegenic governor who has had personal experiences with not only college sports participation and oversight, but also NCAA executives.
Gavin Newsom has played the game, and he knows how to play The Game. Last week, he went on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah” and talked about a range of issues including the NCAA. On Monday, he didn’t do a traditional bill signing. His office announced the bill signing via release of a video that Newsom did on Uninterrupted’s “The Shop” with LeBron James and other athletes.
During a teleconference Monday, he readily acknowledged the heavy lifting done by state Senators Nancy Skinner and Steve Bradford, who authored the bill and led it through the legislature. Skinner said it honored the legacies of Harry Edwards and Kareem Abdul- Jabbar, while Bradford called it “the civil rights issue of today.”
But the person with the pen is a former baseball player at Santa Clara who is married to a former Stanford soccer player. On Monday, he talked about the time commitments athletes make and what he called “the sacrifice” that athletes in revenue-generating sports make “physically, emotionally and mentally. I think everybody knows that objectively. And one has to be, I think, more forthright in acknowledging that.”
“I benefited greatly – wouldn’t be sitting here talking to any of you – had it not been for athletics,” he said. “It’s the reason I got into Santa Clara University. I simply would not have gotten in to Santa Clara had it not been for a very small, partial baseball scholarship. I have deep reverence, deep respect for the NCAA and college athletics. I just think the system has been perverted and this is fundamentally about re-balancing things. It’s about equity. It’s about fairness. And it’s about time.”
WHAT IT MEANS: Impact of California law
He’s seen the NCAA – as an association – in action when he was lieutenant governor and serving as a member of the University of California Board of Regents. Having seen graduation rates for Cal football and men’s basketball players that he viewed as unacceptable, Newsom was in the middle of what become the regents’ adoption of a series of reforms in 2016.
On Monday, he recalled his interactions during that time with NCAA officials, including President Mark Emmert.
“They talked about how they wanted to voluntarily engage us,” Newsom said. “Well, they slow-rolled us. And, with respect, they consistently play around the edges of reform. Now, they can’t do that. I think, ultimately, this is going to force their hand. I think invariably, they’re going to have (to) make some significant concessions to the status quo … and while the threat of litigation may overhang, I think reforms are going to be forthcoming despite how stubborn the next year or two may be.”
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So, he’s willing to deal with the NCAA’s threats toward California schools and the state itself, in the same way he was willing to deal with people affiliated with California schools who lobbied against the bill – people that he said included major donors who “expressed themselves very pointedly.”
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He said “we’re not naïve about the consequences” of potentially having a law that differs widely from NCAA rules about athlete compensation.
But he said he doesn’t think the NCAA will take drastic action against California schools. “I don’t want to suggest it’s a bluff,” he said “They’ve certainly asserted that that would be their intention. I don’t see them doing that for two reasons. One, they can’t afford to do that – can’t afford to lose the state of California. It’s truly a nation-state. And the economic consequences of it would be profound. And, number two, I don’t think they have the legal right to do that. …
“I think what they have is a bigger problem. It’s not a legal problem now. They have a public-opinion problem. The public is way ahead of them, and the public is not going to stand for this any longer, and I think that’s the pressure that’s going to force the NCAA to change.”
Follow Steve Berkowitz on Twitter @ByBerkowitz