Seeing women competing at the highest level – whether in March Madness, the Women’s College World Series, or in many other sports – serves as an inspiration for many young girls across the nation, telling them that they too can excel at whatever they put their minds to.
However, most people may not be aware that the future of women’s collegiate sports is in a precarious position. A proposed law Assembly Bill 252 by Assemblyman Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) in California would create a revenue sharing system that could severely limit many athletic opportunities for women in the Golden State and beyond.
Over the past few years, a majority of states have passed legislation that enables student athletes to be paid by third parties for use of their name, image, and likeness (NIL). These policies serve as a foundational benefit to female athletes in particular, allowing them to reap the benefits of their hard work and the unique role they play for younger generations of women who aspire to pursue athletics.
While the rise of NIL policies provides incredible value to student athletes, a proposal from the state of California threatens generations of hard-fought progress in women’s sports. California state lawmakers are proposing legislation known as the College Athlete Protection Act (CAPA), which would require that student-athletes receive almost half of the revenues their sports generate. Contrary to the title and stated purpose, CAPA would do little to protect student athletes. The bill, and the likely flood of copycats in other states to follow, will severely upend the current state of collegiate athletics as we know it with a chilling effect on women’s sports in particular.
Under the current system, universities across the nation use revenues generated from sports such as football and basketball to subsidize other programs, including many women’s sports. This ensures that schools can provide women with the same opportunities to compete, excel, and pursue professional careers as their male counterparts, consistent with the goals of Title IX.
Conversely, CAPA would severely damage this system, because crucial revenues that once went to women’s sports, as well as olympic sports – many of which are played by women – will be diverted toward student-athletes in high-revenue sports, forcing many schools to scale back or even eliminate low-revenue and women’s sports and the opportunities they provide.
When you factor in the additional benefits to student-athletes that universities provide just to support revenue-generating sports – such as training and medical services, mental health support, food and travel, academic support staff – there will be just a fraction of the revenue left after the direct percent revenue share that can be used to support other programs. Considering women’s and olympic sports require significant costs themselves, it would be nearly impossible to fully support those programs with such significantly reduced budgets.
Advocates of CAPA may claim that universities can make up the costs by cutting salaries of coaches or administrators. However, given the calculated proportions of revenue sharing, even if coaches and administrators worked for free, academic institutions would still face a significant budget shortfall, and revenue cuts would make it virtually impossible to fund the necessary operations for women’s and olympic sports. As an example, a reduction in resources would make it more difficult to fund team travel in a way that ensures students can maintain active attendance in their classes.
Cutting women’s programs would undo much of the incredible growth in popularity we’ve seen in the programs in recent years. According to ESPN, last year’s NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship had the largest audience of any women’s basketball game in nearly 20 years. A survey conducted by National Research Group found that interest in women’s sports is rising dramatically, particularly among younger Americans, with 39% of Gen Z and 29% of Millennials saying they are watching more women’s sports now than they were last year.
As an athlete, I’m ecstatic to see that the country is finally coming to realize that women’s sports are just as competitive, engaging, and exciting as men’s sports. But I remain concerned that lawmakers in California are putting forth proposals that threaten the longevity of women’s sports. Proposals such as CAPA exemplify the inherent misunderstanding and lack of foundational knowledge related to resources for women’s sports. Instead of promoting policies that put women’s sports in jeopardy, lawmakers should work to implement policies that will ensure future generations of women athletes have opportunities beyond the world of possible that I experienced throughout my time in sports.
To protect women’s sports, while enabling fair, sustainable NIL policies to provide value to players, Congress needs to step in and pass national legislation. It’s important that Congress prevent states like California from passing misguided policies that upend college sports in the other 49 states. A uniform national standard will ensure that all student athletes, in every sport, can fairly receive value from use of their name, image, and likeness, while protecting the sustainability of the athletic system at large.
- A New California Law Will Put Women’s Sports at Risk - June 13, 2023