As NCAA Seems Set to Let Student-Athletes Profit, NJ Lawmakers Take Wait-and-See Approach

John Reitmeyer | November 5, 2019 | More Issues
Legislators reserve right to take additional action to protect best interests of New Jersey’s college students
Credit: @kjohnston6350/Twenty20
The NCAA governing board voted to allow student-athletes to begin using their own names, images and likenesses.

Loud calls for change coming from states like New Jersey have forced regulators of college sports to abruptly change course on permitting student-athletes to profit from their on-field performances.

But state lawmakers who favor a loosening of existing restrictions aren’t standing down after a recent announcement from the National Collegiate Athletic Association that seems to pave the way for the types of new policies the lawmakers favor.

Instead, the sponsors of the New Jersey Fair Play Act — which would allow student-athletes for the first time ever to sign endorsement deals or advertising contracts — have indicated they will be keeping close tabs on the NCAA to see if its new policies for what are known as “name, image and likeness” rights go far enough. The lawmakers are reserving the right to take additional action to protect the best interests of New Jersey’s college students.

“Going forward, we will monitor NCAA’s progress in implementing these needed changes and determine what more we can do to protect the rights of our student-athletes,” said Sens. Sandra Cunningham (D-Hudson) and Joseph Lagana (D-Bergen) in a joint statement.

Cunningham, who chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee, and Lagana, a former college football player, last month introduced a bill  seeking to give student-athletes full control over their own name, image and likeness rights. The bill is a direct challenge to existing NCAA rules that prevent student-athletes from profiting in any way from their on-field performances, even as colleges and the NCAA rake in millions each year.

What the state senators proposed

Under the legislation, athletes couldn’t be paid directly by a university in return for participating in a sport, but they could sign endorsement and advertising deals with sponsors to support a product or conduct a training camp for other athletes — using their names. They could also hire agents or lawyers to help arrange such endorsements. The law would also prohibit the NCAA or a university from rescinding a scholarship — which currently is a main enticement for athletes to attend a college — if they seek to profit from their own image.

The introduction of the bill came just weeks after California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed his state’s Fair Play Act into law after concerns about fairness and the exploitation of student-athletes were raised in California. Meanwhile, lawmakers in Florida, New York, South Carolina, Minnesota and Pennsylvania have also all proposed similar policy changes to aid student-athletes.

At the federal level, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) — a former Stanford University football player — has proposed several reforms related to major collegiate sports, including the backing of a new federal law that would allow student-athletes to control their own name, image and likeness rights.

In the wake of the recent activism, the NCAA announced last week that its governing board has voted to allow student-athletes to begin using their own names, images and likenesses. The board also put forward several guiding principles to ensure pending policy changes are made “in a manner consistent with the collegiate model.”

“We must embrace change to provide the best possible experience for college athletes,” said Michael V. Drake, chair of the NCAA’s board of governors.

NCAA plan not yet clear

Despite that announcement, it’s not clear how the NCAA’s policies will change nor when any changes will be finalized. The new regulations could be crafted at any time, but the NCAA has given officials at its divisional levels until January 2021 to address the issue.

“We look forward to working with those student-athletes, the NCAA and our institutions of higher education to create a plan which is fair for all parties involved,” the senators said.

Meanwhile, Booker called the NCAA’s announcement “long overdue.” But he also said more needs to be done to “address the exploitation of college athletes.”

“We need sweeping action to bring justice for college athletes, by making sure that access to a quality education, health care, and economic security are central to college sports — not big profits,” said Booker, who is seeking the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination.

Among other proposals, Booker wants to make colleges and universities cover their student-athletes’ medical bills for injuries suffered during their collegiate playing days for 10 years after they stop playing. He has also called for “lifetime scholarships” for any student-athlete who completes two years with a team to ensure they have ample time to complete a degree even if their eligibility to compete runs out.