On Monday, September 30, California governor Gavin Newsom signed the Fair Pay to Play Act, or Senate Bill 206 (SB 206), which allows college athletes in the state, beginning January 1, 2023, to profit off of their names, images and likenesses (NIL) through sponsorships and endorsement deals. This law directly conflicts with existing NCAA policy which forbids athletes from profiting off NIL, sparking concerns over a legal showdown between the NCAA and California.
While the bulk of the national dialogue surrounding SB 206 has thus far revolved around the fate of million-dollar sponsorship deals and cash-cow Division I programs, the effects of the law and potential subsequent legislation across the nation could have significant consequences for Division III sports—including for NESCAC and Bowdoin athletics.
Although the national image of the NCAA is dominated by high-publicity Division I programs and nationally-visible events like March Madness, Division III sports comprise a significant portion of the NCAA’s internal operations—nearly 40 percent of all collegiate varsity athletes competing in Division III programs.
Despite this fact, Division III athletics receive an annual budget allocation from the NCAA of $32.4 million, or only 3.18 percent of its total operating budget, according to the Division III 2019-20 Facts and Figures infographic published on the NCAA website.
Because Division III schools receive such a slim portion of NCAA funds, even a marginal cut to the NCAA’s total revenue due to the loss of revenue from players’ NIL could have significant implications when multiplied across the hundreds of schools and thousands of student-athletes that comprise Division III athletics.
“Each one of those dollars is really important for supporting the experience of students on the field and then also the other programming that the NCAA supports like the Careers in Sports Forum or internship opportunities for students,” said Tim Ryan, Ashmead White Director of Athletics.
Although many Division III athletic programs, including Bowdoin’s, do not profit from their athletic programs and therefore would not lose any revenue if athletes were allowed to profit from NIL, the cuts would be particularly felt in the NCAA funding for Division III championship tournaments. The funds that the NCAA uses to reimburse Division III schools for the costs they incur when hosting and advertising these championships events currently comprise three-quarters of the Division III operating budget.
“If we host an NCAA championship event on campus, we’re reimbursed for the expenses that we incur,” said Ryan. “There could be a scenario down the road where, if difficult decisions need to be made about budgets and things along those lines, the NCAA may pull back some of those resources, and that would therefore end up having an impact on the individual institutions.”
Ryan said that these budget cuts would likely not dissuade Bowdoin from hosting championship events, but he noted that schools with fewer financial resources devoted to athletics might be less inclined to host championship events if the NCAA lowers its reimbursement rate.
Beyond championship events, a significant portion of the Division III budget is allotted to programs and events designed for student athletes. A few of the largest non-championship expenditures, for example, include the Woman and Minority Intern Program (allotted $1.3 million) and Division III Diversity Initiatives (allotted $250,000 annually.) These auxiliary projects could be some of the first to be hit with budget cuts should the NCAA be forced to restructure its funding guidelines.
Lisa Champagne, NESCAC Assistant Director for Media Relations, declined to comment at this time on how the passage of SB 206 could have implications for small athletic conferences such as the NESCAC and the individual student athletes within them. She suggested that with so many variables still at play, including other states potentially proposing similar legislation and the NCAA’s potential response to the bill, it would be premature to comment on the matter before the NCAA convention in January, where representatives from all three divisions will gather and SB 206 will likely be a major talking point.
Similarly, Adam Skaggs, the NCAA Assistant Director of Division III Governance Communications, indicated that his department was prohibited from commenting on the situation until further notice.
The extent of the NCAA’s commentary on the matter has been limited to a series of press releases on the topic. The NCAA has formed a working group that will release a series of “overarching principles” to guide each division as it reacts to this legislation.
“As part of its efforts, the working group will study modifications of current rules, policies and practices. In particular, it will focus on solutions that tie any changes to education; maintain the clear demarcation between professional and college sports; and further align student-athletes with the general student body,” reads a release on the NCAA website entitled “NCAA working group to examine name, image and likeness.”
If the NCAA were to propose any amendments to its existing regulations regarding student-athlete compensation, Bowdoin would be able to vote on the new legislation both as an individual member institution of the NCAA and as a member of the NESCAC, said Ryan.
“The college is able to advocate for our position through our conference and then individually as an institution as well, with the network that we have within the leadership of Division III and the NCAA overall,” said Ryan.
Neither the NESCAC nor the College has come to a firm position on a potential rule change, said Ryan.
Although it could still be years before similar laws are adopted in Maine or at a federal level, the effects that SB 206 has had on Division III athletics in California serves as an instructive comparison for the NESCAC.
“The SCIAC and our members have been closely monitoring SB 206 throughout the process,” said Jennifer Dubow, the Executive Director of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC), in an email to the Orient. The SCIAC is a small Division III athletic conference in Southern California that resembles the NESCAC in terms of its organizational structure and member composition.
Dubow expressed concern with the NCAA’s suggestion that it would exclude California schools that allow athletes to profit from NIL from NCAA championship competitions.
“We are concerned the bill would allow California student-athletes unrestricted name, image and likeness (NIL) opportunities which could render teams ineligible for NCAA competitions,” wrote Dubow.
Like the NESCAC, the SCIAC is holding off on adopting a formal position, according to Dubow.
“SB 206 has an effective date of January 1, 2023 and we are also waiting for recommendations from a working group the NCAA formed this summer to examine possible modifications to current NCAA NIL rules,” wrote Dubow. “That Working Group should have a final report to the NCAA Board of Governors at the end of October. Each Division will then make decisions if there are any legislative changes that might make sense in the area of name, image and likeness.”
Bowdoin could be more directly affected by the controversy if additional states or the federal government adopt legislation allowing college athletes to profit from NIL. As of mid-October, 10 states including New York and Pennsylvania have proposed similar legislation, and federal lawmakers have suggested that Congress could consider the issue.
As this law takes effect and the NCAA is forced to reconsider its role in college sports, Division III athletics—including those at Bowdoin and the rest of the NESCAC—could be faced with significant budget cuts to both championship events and auxiliary development and student-athlete experience programs. It will most likely take years for these possible changes to take effect, but we may be approaching a new age for college athletics, and Bowdoin will certainly be a part of it.
Ian Ward contributed to this report.