California Community Colleges explore athletes’ profitability rights legislation

The dream of collegiate athletes being able to profit off advertisements and endorsements is quickly becoming a reality in California.

With the signing of Senate Bill 206, Division I athletes will soon be able to acquire endorsements and sponsorships while still maintaining athletic eligibility. Passed in Sept. 2019, SB 206 opens the door for university athletes to profit off their name by 2023, but does not extend to community college athletes as of now.

A working group was established to recommend legislation that would benefit California Community College athletes' profitability in response to the bill’s signing. The group has met over Zoom since July, with the goal of submitting a report to the Chancellor of the California Community Colleges’s office by July 1, 2021.

LeBaron Woodyard, dean of academic affairs at the CCC Chancellor's Office, is active chair of the committee. The official mission statement of the group emphasizes the importance of compensating California Community College athletes by providing them fair market value for their use.

With Governor Gavin Newsom’s signature, collegiate athletes will have access to certain markets they were previously blocked from before SB 206. Sponsorships from local businesses, endorsements from name brands and incentives on social media will all be fair game for any collegiate athlete if the committee could draft recommendations for legislation by the end of the next legislative session in early July of next year. 

The CCC system includes 24,000 athletes, many with aspirations to play at a higher level. Woodyard’s group, with the help of an economist and other experts, is trying to make a case for athletes at the two-year level to profit off their name.

“Based on an analysis of those 24,000 athletes and their social media accounts, the economist that we employed is able to make a specific calculation on how much a California Community College athlete might be worth as an influencer on social media,” Woodyard said.

The recent surge of “influencers” on social media has opened the door for athletes to profit off their image. For instance, in the Orange Empire Conference, the maximum value of an athlete’s post could be as much as $30, with an average of $14 on Twitter. On Instagram, the average worth of an athlete’s post could be $52 but the maximum value may reach $862 per post, according to Orange Coast College athletic director Jason Kehler.

“A student athlete in the Orange Empire could look to make about $2,700 on Instagram annually,” Kehler said.

Attempting to even the playing field for CCC students, the working group might have to look toward examples like Florida, Delaware and New Jersey – some of the few states in the country to draft legislation regarding name, image and likeness for college athletes.

“There are a lot of myths out there in the world,” Woodyard said. “Some people think that this only applies to the big schools, because [some people say] community college athlete names aren’t going to be worth anything. But there’s another end of the spectrum that says there’s a lot of money to be made with community college athletes. There just haven’t been any empirical studies.” 

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) also convened a working group aside from the CCC Chancellor's office, so it is worth monitoring how these two entities will work together – or against – each other in the near future.  

“The NCAA is limiting certain opportunities for their college athletes,” Woodyard said. 

Even though the state government is on the doorstep of legalizing name and likeness profit, Woodyard said associations like the NCAA are narrowing the scope of activities that athletes can profit off.

“In other words, you can’t make money off name, image and likeness with alcohol. You can’t profit off gambling. Another restriction people are talking about is any type of sex-oriented advertisement,” Woodyard said. “The NCAA and other associations will be legislating morality.”   

Woodyard and his group also need to take into account how the legislation they propose will affect athletes transferring from the CCC system into the NCAA.

“We’ve heard a lot of testimony on how we have to be careful about what we put into place because we don't want to have our students harmed by their decisions,” Woodyard said. 

This issue stems from the NCAA’s “door half-open” approach where they are allowing student-athletes to profit off their name but limiting the cases where it applies.

“It might take several court cases and is years away, but college sports may open it up for everything anyway,” Woodyard said.

The NCAA has previously countered with the argument that allowing student-athletes to profit off their name will disrupt the priorities of such athletes, diverting them away from an educational focus. 

Another argument against this bill is the fact that colleges offer substantially large scholarships to athletes, thus allowing them to “double-dip” on their net profit if allowed to make money off their name. 

However, in the CCC system, not one student is on an athletics-based scholarship and yet they still cannot profit off their name.

“A regular student in the CCC system right now can do any job they want and it won't have any impact against their status as a student,” Woodyard said. “But if an athlete was to show their name, image or likeness to the local furniture store, it will impact their ability to play a sport.”

This idea of blurring the line between a student and a student-athlete will most-likely lead to athletes having the same rights as their fellow students.   

“There is a disparity between a regular community college student and community college student that happens to play a sport and doesn’t even get a scholarship for it,” Woodyard said.

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