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Navigating A New (Paying) Era For College Athletes

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A new era in college sports begins next week. At least six states will put into effect laws that allow college athletes to make money for things like endorsement deals, signing autographs and social media content. That has been prohibited under NCAA rules, but now the organization realizes that it has to reform, especially after Monday's Supreme Court decision, which further weakened the NCAA's notion of amateurism in college sports. Here's NPR's Tom Goldman.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: California struck the first blow against the NCAA in a very California way - a bill signing on the set of the HBO program, "The Shop."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SHOP")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Well, let's do it.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: All right.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: All right.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: California, man.

GOLDMAN: Governor Gavin Newsom signed the Fair Pay to Play Act in 2019. It allowed college athletes to be compensated for the use of their name, image and likeness or NIL. And it reflected the growing discontent about the NCAA's shaky ideal of amateurism, with so-called amateur athletes generating vast revenues and not sharing in them. For the NCAA, California signalled the start of a problem - a state-by-state patchwork of laws would create recruiting advantages leading to competitive imbalance, something critics say has long existed in big-time college sports. But the NCAA failed to come up with a one-size-fits-all plan. A vote set for January of this year was indefinitely delayed. Now the NCAA is scrambling to come up with something as more states prepare to usher in the NIL era.

MARK MOORES: It's the NCAA's fault for not taking action.

GOLDMAN: New Mexico Senator Mark Moores, a former college football player, was the primary sponsor of his state's new law - one of those going into effect next Thursday, July 1.

MOORES: States are sovereign powers. And when we see a situation that's unfair and needs to be addressed, we're going to use our ability to pass laws to address those issues.

GOLDMAN: With NIL, schools don't pay athletes. Third parties do. New Mexico State sophomore basketball player Molly Kaiser says, it's amazing. Athletes will benefit from their name because, she says, they work hard to get their name out there.

MOLLY KAISER: I'm honored to be, like, a part of the start of that, so I think it's going to be pretty cool. And now I can continue to make YouTube videos and actually profit off of it (laughter).

GOLDMAN: Michigan basketball player Naz Hillmon wouldn't be able to take advantage until December of next year when that state's law goes into effect. Still, she's got ideas.

NAZ HILLMON: I would love to do some camps.

GOLDMAN: And openly promote friends and family members.

HILLMON: Some of them have businesses, and I'm technically not allowed to promote them and say, go visit them. And, you know, I have to word it a certain way on my social medias.

GOLDMAN: In Los Angeles, USC quarterback Mo Hasan is hopeful this week. The lawmakers behind California's Fair Pay to Play Act want to change the law's start date from 2023 to this September, when Hasan, a podcast host, is still in school.

MO HASAN: I just got off the phone with a podcast network, and they presented the opportunity to sign with them and partner with them and generate revenue through advertisement.

GOLDMAN: Still, many athletes are uncertain about how to make money or navigate restrictions to ensure NIL doesn't become pay for play. Dozens of businesses have sprung up to help and cash in on the wave. In 2017, Jim Cavale created the software platform INFLCR. Now he says tens of thousands of athletes have the INFLCR app to help them manage their name, image and likeness. Creating that business, building personal brands - Cavale says, that's the exciting part of this era for all athletes.

JIM CAVALE: Even though it might not mean a ton of money made off of NIL, it's going to help them make the most of the network and surroundings they have while they're playing so that they can start to make those connections and build the foundation for the rest of their lives.

GOLDMAN: The question remains - who will have the opportunities? Athletes in at least six states will, as of next Thursday. And even before July 1, all athletes could be included. The NCAA is smarting from its Supreme Court defeat on Monday and appears ready to take a join them rather than fight them approach. It's reportedly considering a plan giving schools in states without these laws the right to create their own policies. It's an attempt to even the playing field for athletes nationwide, even on an interim basis, as July 1 approaches fast. Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.