Former UCLA basketball star praises new fair pay bill

Ed O'Bannon, the former UCLA basketball star who sued the NCAA so college football and basketball players could profit from the use of their images, says a newly passed bill in California that expands the ability of student athletes to earn money is "changing the game."

SACRAMENTO — Ed O’Bannon, the former UCLA basketball star who sued the NCAA so college football and basketball players could profit from the use of their images, says a newly passed bill in California that expands the ability of student athletes to earn money is “changing the game.”

O’Bannon talked about California’s SB 206, also known as the Fair Pay to Play Act, in an interview with CNN’s Michael Smerconish on Saturday. “California’s in a really good position,” O’Bannon said. “They are changing the game. And from where we sit, we’re extremely excited about it.”

The Fair Pay to Play Act would allow college athletes in California to sign endorsement deals; earn compensation based on the usage of their name, image and likeness; and sign all types of licensing contracts that would allow them to earn money.

The bill was passed by the state legislature earlier this week and now heads to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk for signature. If signed into law, the Fair Pay to Play Act wouldn’t go into effect until 2023. But it would have immediate implications for recruiting athletes. And while many people in sports have cheered the bill, it has also reignited a longstanding debate over whether college athletes should be paid.

One of the most vocal opponents of the California bill has been former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow, who says that it would make college sports indistinguishable from the National Football League and ruin what makes college football unique. “I know we live in a selfish culture where it’s all about us, but we’re just adding and piling it on to that, where it changes what’s special about college football,” he said on ESPN’s First Take on Friday. “We turn it into the NFL where who has the most money, that’s where you go.”

O’Bannon said he doesn’t think that would happen. “College athletes will be able to profit off of their likeness and just kind of take it from there,” he said. “I don’t know that they would be getting paid millions of dollars.”

A decade ago, O’Bannon was the lead plaintiff in an antitrust class action lawsuit against the NCAA that argued that student athletes should be entitled to financial compensation after they graduate for the NCAA’s use of their image.

O’Bannon said his fight against the NCAA started when visited his friend’s house and saw a video game his friend’s son had been playing. On the screen, O’Bannon saw himself, his brother and all of his UCLA teammates from 1995. “And then [my friend] told me he paid X amount of dollars for it, and I didn’t get a penny,” O’Bannon said. “And that’s when it really hit me. The rest is history.”

The case prompted the video game company Electronic Arts to stop producing games based on college sports, and the 9th Circuit Court eventually ruled that the NCAA was in violation of antitrust laws. The court deemed that the NCAA could remedy the problem by offering full scholarships that cover the cost of attendance for athletes, including stipends for cost of living that weren’t currently offered by college sports’ governing body.

But some people felt the compensation was still insufficient, and to this day, the fight over whether college athletes should be treated as workers or amateurs continues.

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