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Payday for California college athletes moves closer to pay dirt

8213erika/iStock(LOS ANGELES) — The California Assembly has overwhelmingly passed legislation to allow college athletes to earn income for the first time from their names, images and likenesses — a proposal praised by NBA star LeBron James but slammed by the NCAA.

The proposal, also known as the Fair Pay to Play Act, would prohibit California colleges and universities from enforcing NCAA rules preventing student-athletes from being compensated for the use of their names, images and likenesses and from endorsements and sponsorships.

The state Assembly passed the bill on Monday in a 73-0 vote. An earlier version was approved by the state Senate on May 22 and the amended bill will go back to the state Senate for a vote on Friday.

If approved by the Senate, the bill will be sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who will have 30 days to sign it into law or veto it.

It could go into effect in 2023.

The Assembly voted on the bill after LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers tweeted his support for the legislation last week.

“California can change the game,” James, a frequent critic of the NCAA who went straight to the NBA from high school, said in his tweet.

In a statement to ABC News on Tuesday, the NCAA said it is closely monitoring the legislation.

“As we evaluate our next steps, we remain focused on providing opportunities and a level playing field for the nearly half a million student-athletes nationwide,” the statement reads.

In a letter sent to state Assembly leaders in June, NCAA President Mark Emmert warned that if the legislation becomes law there could be severe consequences for the state’s colleges and universities, including prohibiting athletic teams from participating in NCAA championships.

“We recognize all of the efforts that have been undertaken to develop this bill in the context of complex issues related to the current collegiate model that has been the subject of litigation and much national debate,” Emmert wrote in his letter.

“Nonetheless, when contrasted with current NCAA rules, as drafted the bill threatens to alter materially the principles of intercollegiate athletics and create local differences that would make it impossible to host fair national championships,” Emmert wrote. “As a result, it likely would have a negative impact on the exact student-athletes it intends to assist.”

State Sen. Nancy Skinner, a co-author of the bill, said the proposed law would level the playing field for student-athletes against “unfair rules that exploit college athletes and allow the NCAA, universities, TV networks, and corporate sponsors to pocket huge sums.”

She said the rules have “disproportionately harmed students from low-income families,” including many who live below the poverty line while attempting to simultaneously fulfill their dreams in the athletic arena and the classroom.

“They’re particularly unfair to female athletes because, for many young women, college is the only time they could earn income since women have fewer professional sports opportunities than men,” Skinner’s statement reads.

The action taken by California lawmakers appears to be gaining national traction.

In March, U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., proposed the Student-Athlete Equity Act, bipartisan legislation that would remove the restriction on student-athletes using or being compensated for use of their names, images and likenesses.

Some athletes have previously sued the NCAA and video game makers in attempts to get paid for the use of their names and likenesses.

Former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon, who led the school to an NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship in 1995, was the lead plaintiff in an anti-trust lawsuit that challenged the NCAA’s right to use athletes’ names, images and likenesses without compensation. O’Bannon claimed his name and image were illegally used in video games years after he graduated and without him ever being compensated.

A judge presiding over O’Bannon’s case found in 2014 that amateurism rules for college sports violated federal antitrust law and ruled that student-athletes could be compensated as much as $5,000 annually. But an appeals court struck down the plan to pay student-athletes.

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