By Andrew Smalley
Phoenix—California’s passage of Fair Pay to Play legislation in September has launched the issue of allowing student-athletes to receive compensation for their name, image and likeness to the forefront of consideration for the upcoming 2020 session.
Legislators in at least 25 states plan to introduce bills relating to student-athlete compensation in the next year.
At the 2019 NCSL Capitol Forum, legislators and stakeholders including representatives from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) discussed the challenges and outlook for student-athlete compensation legislation.
“This is a huge issue. If most people recognized how big this is, there wouldn’t be a seat left in this room,” said former Indiana Senator Brandt Hershman (R), now a Partner at Barnes & Thornburg, a Washington, D.C., law firm that has been looking at legal issues related to student athlete compensation. “This is an area where competition cannot police the marketplace. There is need for regulatory oversight. Even if Congress does something, it is vitally important that states have a seat at the table.”
Last week a bipartisan group of U.S. senators, including Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah), announced plans to create a working group to review college student-athlete compensation.
Meanwhile, the NCAA is actively developing its own plans to address the issue. Earlier this year, before California’s legislation passed, the NCAA appointed a Federal and State Legislation Working Group to examine issues relating to student-athlete name, image and likeness compensation. This group includes both administrative members and student-athletes from all three NCAA divisions.
In late October the working group presented its recommendations to the NCAA Board of Governors, which unanimously voted to allow students to earn compensation from their name, image and likeness if it is in a manner that is consistent with the collegiate model. This action allows each NCAA division to create guidelines for student-athlete compensation, which it aims to finalize by January 2021.
“The board voted unanimously that change needs to occur,” said Dawn Buth, the NCAA's assistant director of government relations. “This is not about the schools paying student-athletes; it is about third parties paying student-athletes for their name, image and likeness.”
Panelists also spoke about the potential impacts of the legislation on student-athletes, schools and states.
“There is a perception that there are going to be superstar athletes who will be able to monetize on this and certainly, the superstars will do their deals,” said Kenneth Shropshire, CEO of the Global Sport Institute and distinguished professor at Arizona State University. “But there will also be beneficiaries in sports that a lot of people play.”
Shropshire explained that less-prominent athletes from high participation sports such as swimming and tennis will benefit by being able to set up revenue-generating classes or camps and using their likeness to promote themselves.
“Some of the athletes who will benefit from this are not the ones you might think of,” Carolayne Henry, senior associate commissioner of the Mountain West Conference said. “Gender equity is one of the main topics we are looking at. This could impact women and men differently.”
Panelists also explored the issues that could arise, including recruitment changes and the implications of students potentially signing lucrative contracts at young ages.
“The challenge is to not lose track of what we want these young people to end up with, which is an education,” Shropshire said.
“Student-athletes are students first,” Buth said. “Education should be the driver and focus of our approach.”
Andrew Smalley is a research analyst in NCSL's Education Program.