What is the Fair Pay to Play Act?


California started the ball rolling a little over a month ago with Governot Gavin Newsome signing a bill called the Fair Pay to Play Act. This allowed college athletes in the state of California to be able to make money off of their likeness. This mean that with a few exceptions the athlete will now be able to take money and not be penalized by the school or the NCAA. So Exactly what is the Fair Pay to Play Act?

Out with the old rules

Previously a student athlete was basically not allowed to take any money from anybody or he would be deemed ineligible by NCAA rules. If he/she wanted to sign autographs for fans of the team, they could do so but could not receive any money for them. They were also unable to sign an endorsement deal, or do a commercial for a company. Seems antiquated huh?

In addition, student athletes were obviously not allowed to take money from anybody, whether it is a friend, booster, or affiliate of the school, but they were not allowed to even take a free meal if offered! And all of this while the NCAA, the schools, and just about everybody else involved in these sports were making a lot of money! Definitely does not sound very fair to me.

How much money?

So just to put this into context, the NCAA had almost $1.1 BILLION in annual revenue for the fiscal year of 2017. And with that money, a lot of it is going to the head coaches of these college programs. Football of course leads the way as would be expected, with Dabo Swinney of the Clemson Tigers just getting a 10-year, $93 million contract now the highest paid college coach. Nick Saban isn’t too far behind at $8.3 million, and Jim Harbaugh at $7.5 Million.

You might think that it is only football that has outrageous salaries, but NCAA basketball coaches are not too far behind. In fact, Mike Krzyzewski is making more than every football coach except Swinney, at $8.9 million a year. John Calipari isn’t too far behind at $7.1 million. Although women’s sports do not pay quite as well, Geno Auriemma will be getting over $13 million for 5 years with his newest contract extension to be the women’s basketball coach at the University of Connecticut.

The money does not stop there though! Texas A&M recently renovated Kyle Field, where the Aggies play football, to a tune of $450 million! The University of Oklahoma did the same to their stadium, cost $370 million. Husky Stadium was renovated for $250 million for the University of Washington. University of Michigan upgraded the big house for $226 million. Just about every major college program has improved their stadiums in the last 10-15 years, and that does not even include the state of the art training facilities that are found on every campus these days.

What about scholarships?

Yes, these student athletes do typically get some kind of scholarship, especially the top end players. Which if used to earn a degree can be invaluable to these young adults as they move forward in life. With the amount of money being made off of the skills of these athletes, however, it seems like they are still getting shortchanged.

Let’s say an athlete decided to go to the University of Alabama, where we just talked about the fact that football head coach Nick Saban makes $8.3 million a year (head basketball coach Avery Johnson is making over $2.8 million just in case you were wondering). If he/she is lucky enough to live in Alabama already, the tuition plus room and board and other expenses would be about $29,000 a year. If they are from out of state, you are looking at a little over $46,000.

Doing the math, you have a head coach making $33.2 million over a 4-year stretch, while the student athlete will be “making” either $116,000 or $184,000 over the same 4 years. Just for reference, keeping with football numbers, Bill Belichek is making between $10-12 million/year. The lowest salary for the New England Patriots players is $510,000, given to safety Mailik Grant. That is slightly higher than $46,000 even though the coaching salaries are similar.

Am I Suggesting Paying Players?

I would definitely not be against it. College sports stopped being something that students did in their spare time from going to class and studying a long time ago. These student athletes have become much more athlete and far less student in recent years. With the professional leagues putting rules on how old you have to be to partake in their leagues, athletes often times do not have much of a choice, either go to college or try to go overseas and play in another country’s league, which works sometimes in basketball but obviously not for a sport like football.

That being said, I can understand the difficulties with paying their players. Not only do you have the bigger media sports, but there are also many smaller sports that would want their share of the pie as well. How do you split up the money? Since there are some schools which have more money than others how do you keep a somewhat level playing field? A profit sharing program works in professional leagues with 30 or so teams, but when you are talking 100’s of colleges in a given sport is becomes much more complicated.

That’s where the new Fair to Play Act comes in

If you can’t pay the players directly, let them make their own money. Now instead of seeing your favorite NFL player selling Nike’s on TV, you can see your favorite college player next to them. Go get your Clemson Trevor Lawrence jersey (that you bought last year, but now he can get some of the proceeds) signed by Trevor Lawrence himself. I guarantee it will be cheaper than getting it in a few years when he is throwing to NFL receivers.

This act makes so much sense that it is amazing that it has taken this long to create. I can’t think of any other profession that tells you that you cannot make money off of basically yourself. This new act will allow the students to hire agents and accept endorsements. Although this new law will not go into effect until 2023, this is finally a good step in the right direction

More importantly, it has forced the NCAA’s hands. Not even a month after the California Fair to Play act was signed into law, the NCAA’s Board of Governors announced that they had voted unanimously to allow student athletes to make money off of their names. This will go into effect no later than January 2021. Simply amazing how the timing of that vote lined up with the California decision isn’t it?

Now what?

Even with the NCAA voting to allow athletes to make money, it has yet to be determined what exactly will be allowed and what will not. The NCAA has not been the most trustworthy when it comes to looking out for their student athletes. Other states have introduced bills similar to California’s, so that should push the NCAA into doing the right thing, or risk losing many of the colleges that have helped make it so much money in recent years.

I am sure there are a lot of players that are excited about this new ruling, but hopefully it is just one step followed by many more. The next few years will be interesting for sure.

This is definitely a hot button issue, so what are your thoughts on the subject? Please leave your comments and questions below, I would love to discuss this with you. Should student athletes be allowed to make money off of their own likeness? Will this be a good thing for college sports? Only time will tell!



  1. I had heard about this act that California has implemented and I have to opine that it is a law that was long overdue. Taking advantage of the college athletes that have been providing so much entertainment over the years has gotten way out of normal bounds, both morally and in real dollar figures.

    Your article has laid it out quite clearly for me and I appreciate the effort you put in researching and presenting it as you have. Do you think that other states will follow this path? California is often on the front of such initiatives and I am glad to see that they have done this.   

    • Yes, other states have already followed suit, which is good in case the NCAA’s new rules will not be enough for the athletes.

  2. Wow what an amazing article! I was very surprised with the numbers, and how unfair the student athletes are treated, thank you for sharing your information on this topic it’s an eye opening, obviously many young people give up their future and study to follow their dreams of being great athletes and this is not the way to treat them, they need all the support they can get and it has to be a priority. 

  3. It has always seemed somewhat like an outrage when comparing what the student players earn through scholarship only and letting all the coaches earn the big money. It is somewhat uncalled for and I really hope that the NCAA takes judicious decision on time to enable students to become invariably better. I am very delighted to access something like this and will make sure I start following up on the updates of this in coming years

    • I hope the NCAA does what is right also, but I am not holding my breath! They have not been exactly the most advantageous for student athletes in the past.

  4. I think it’s about darn time that something like the Fair Pay To Play Act came along to the college football sport. It’s been completely ridiculous that the NCAA and EA Sports treated college football players as living ATM machines for decades. With this new Fair Pay to Play Act happening across the country I hope it changes maybe retroactively some of the worst penalties the NCAA has imposed upon college football teams. Off the top of my head I think Reggie Bush should get his Heisman Trophy back and USC should get their vacated wins back. What do you think?

    • I completely agree, all of those decisions should be reversed, but I doubt that happens unfortunately. It’s all for the record books anyways, everybody that was aware at the time still experienced those wins and considers Reggie Bush the Heisman trophy winner that year. I for one though am super excited about being able to play NCAA football again!

  5. My cousin who is in the college is currently beaming with joy since the fair pay to play act has surfaced and I can only hope that it stays because it will help to eradicate all these injustice being done to the college players. They should earn and make worth amount because it is what they put a lot of effort and money too themselves so, I feel this act is only justified. I am still waiting for the NCAA’s reactions to this. Thanks

    • That is good that your cousin will be able to benefit from this. I fully believe that this is a start of a movement that will not be stopped now. Thank you for reading!

  6. Hi, Travis.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on fair pay to play-act
    The NCAA’s decision on allowing athletes to make money is indeed very courageous. In my opinion, students must be allowed to make money as per their likeness. This move will definitely motivate the students and enhance the performance of college sport. But, how it will be regulated?
    Warm Regards,
    Gaurav Gaur

    • I am under a mindset that as long as it is legal in the rest of society there shouldn’t be a problem with it. Imagine not being able to go make money (legally) to take care of yourself and your family? Being told no, you cannot do that commercial because you play college sports. Would another student on campus be told the same thing? Doubtful, because there is no legality to telling someone they cannot make money on their likeness. The only thing that the NCAA can do is not let them play sports, which would not affect a non-athlete.

  7. Well its been a long slog of daylight robbery for the athletes til now as far as I am concerned. I am literally astonished to learn those coaching figures,that’s a huge salary to be boasting. I am sure the team moral would be much better with out the dictative strains of money.  ?

    I enjoyed you overview of the fair pay/play act.

    Cheers Ropata

    • And it’s not just those mentioned, just about every coach at a division 1 school is making very good money. Team moral still needs to be watched, but yes I am sure when kids are able to focus on their sports and not simply surviving they will be happier.

  8. Thank you for the awesome post!  As a student who went to college, I can say, at first I was pretty upset over this.  I felt cheated not getting a full ride to a private college, and at first, I felt this law was to add insult to injury.  However, after I began to understand it, it’s not the college that is paying them extra, right?  It’s actually other people, and it’s based off their personality basically, right?

    • Exactly, the fair pay to play act does not allow the colleges to pay the players directly, however they are allowed to sign endorsement deals, do commercials, make money off of their likeness in video games and such. 

  9. My eyes almost pooped out learning how much these coaches we’re making while the main income generators earn a meagre sum! I did say this Fair To Play Act is very much long overdue.

    I know it might be these kids passion to play ball and just being selected in the team means everything to them, but I mean… Common…

    They deserve way better than they are being offered and I hope this new change will have better impact in their lives, and I mean money-wise 🙃

    • I competely agree, I’m sure there will be a few bad apples that will do the wrong thing but most of these kids love the sports that they play but want to survive as well. I’m sure this will drive people to market themselves like the pros do, which I like that idea as well. 

  10. Hello!

    I think it’s perfect that football players being university students can earn money. 

    It is not to my liking that these athletes in recent years do better in sports than with studies. 

    I also agree that these athletes can earn money for themselves. 

    Old rules that are no longer useful today we must change. Many thanks for sharing!

    • I agree with your take on the kids doing better with school, unfortunately most of these athletes aren’t there for school. But I am glad that they are getting the ability to earn money as well! 

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