It’s that time of year again, when college basketball dominates screens and schedules across America. Likewise, March Madness is making its way to the Kentucky General Assembly through legislation involving college sports players.
A bill that enables university student-athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness (NIL) has serious traction, helped along by bipartisanship and high-profile supporters. This means players will see paychecks based on dollars tied to their profile.
This is the latest in a series of moves to make NIL the law of the land. A landmark decision from the U.S. Supreme Court last summer set off a chain reaction.
With the Supreme Court saying college athletes could make money off endorsements or social media, the NCAA instituted temporary policies and pushed for action from Congress and state legislatures.
Gov. Andy Beshear was first to the basket, issuing an executive order on NIL policy ahead of any other governor. Thus, Kentucky college athletes have technically been able to make money off their name, image and likeness since last July. With the legislature now in session, Kentucky must codify parameters and policies.
Senate Bill 6, sponsored by Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, enshrines many parts of Beshear’s current executive order. The legislation appeals to lawmakers on both sides, with Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, as the prime co-sponsor. It also has an emergency clause, meaning it takes effect immediately upon passage.
Champions of the proposal stretch beyond Frankfort and into the sports world. On Feb. 9, University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari and Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart gave strong testimony in Frankfort.
Coach Calipari stated in committee that SB 6 is model legislation that other states will emulate. “I think other states are going to look at this bill and say, ‘Wow.’”
Per Barnhart, approximately 250 UK athletes have already signed more than 800 NIL deals since the executive order went into effect.
Debates on whether college athletes should be able to profit off their talents have lingered for decades. Promoters point to the billions in revenue athletic departments generate for universities each year. Naysayers argue that dollars for players taint the purity of college sports.
For Sen. Wise, “Times are changing. And Kentucky needs to keep up with the changing nature of this issue and lead on this. As Coach Cal said in his testimony, this is model legislation that other states or even the U.S. Congress should take an interest in.”
For example, experts forecast that Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow could have earned $700,000 in endorsement revenue during his last year at LSU. Similarly, $440,000 NIL dollars could have gone to Miami Dolphin’s Tua Tagovailoa as an Alabama senior.
McGarvey urged lawmakers to think beyond the big names.
“If you’re a musician on scholarship, you can start a YouTube channel or an Instagram feed, and give lessons or promote your band,” he said.
“If you’re an artist, you can sell your paintings. … You can promote yourself. Our student athletes haven’t had that opportunity.”
Some have highlighted the unique advantage NIL poses for collegiate women given their edge in social media influence. One example cited is the hugely popular UCLA women’s gymnastics team, which could make millions in Instagram ad endorsements.
With windfall comes responsibility. SB 6 gives an assist to athletes by requiring that institutions offer financial literacy courses for student-athletes to learn money management.
Although SB 6 provides significant flexibility for colleges, it does ban them from using NIL policies to recruit athletes. And, players hoping to score must first get university approval on any NIL money-making activity. Parameters are built in to prohibit players from promoting illegal activity, sports betting or adult entertainment.
Fans of SB 6 are hoping for a fast break ahead of adjournment. If passed, there may be a bill signing complete with autographs, pictures and future profits.