Plan to let college athletes profit from endorsements advances

Sen. Megan Hunt discusses her bill Tuesday (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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February 25, 2020 - 5:29pm

A bill allowing Nebraska college athletes to make money from their name, image and likeness is advancing in the Legislature, despite some concerns about what it means for the future of college athletics.

Sen. Megan Hunt is lead sponsor of the bill, inspired by similar legislation California passed last year, in defiance of the National Collegiate Athletic Association rules. Hunt says the proposal would let student athletes profit from their skills, just like other students, while they’re in college.

“Less than 2% of student athletes ever advance to the professional level. That means that 98% of student athletes never go pro. So college might be the only time that an athlete even has the opportunity to earn income from their sports status, if they're given the chance, Hunt said. “College sports are a $14 billion – “b,” billion -- dollar a year industry. Yet even while profits increase year over year, student athletes are being excluded from the enterprise related to this industry.”

And Hunt told her colleagues what the bill, LB962 is not about.

“This bill, please understand, does not require colleges or universities to pay athletes. LB962 allows players to sign endorsement deals with brands and participate in the free market. For example, posting a sponsored Instagram post or monetizing a YouTube channel or accepting payments for appearing at training camps and events,” she said.

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks said she had run into problems when her children were in high school sports.

“There were a number of instances where we tried to hire one of the goalies from the Nebraska soccer team, and others like the forwards, but we couldn't even get them to be able to come and take time. Because there are these ridiculous rules. Meanwhile, when we tried to get a tutor on some math issues for one of our kids, there's no problem with that because they weren't athletes,” Pansing Brooks said.

Sen. Adam Morfeld said the bill is important for student athletes.

“It's important because when coaches and other folks and administrators are making millions of dollars off their hard work, off their performance, that they have the ability, at the very least, to be able to make money off their name, image and likeness,” Morfeld said.

Sen. Mike Groene, chairman of the Education Committee, opposed the bill, mentioning NU head football coach Scott Frost in a hypothetical example about recruiting.

“Coach Frost won't be sitting on a couch across from a kid anymore. It’ll be the advertising director. He will sit there and tell the parents ‘I can get your kid $150,0000.’ Then the Alabama one will come in and say I can get him $200,000.’ It'll be a bidding war. It will have nothing to do about our facilities or our fan base. It'll be about the money,” Groene said.

Sen. Ernie Chambers, who began trying to get players paid in the early 1980s, said schools realize change is needed.

“This is a recruitment tool. If other schools allow their athletes to do this and UNL does not, then the players are not going to come here. They will go to a school where they can receive some compensation for the misuse, or use, of their name,” Chambers said.

Sen. Bruce Bostelman said some athletes already benefit from scholarships, including room, board and tuition, while some nonathletes aren’t treated as well.

 “Just because they’re not an athlete -- and I understand athletics is big dollars, I get it -- but also on the grant side of things, the work that we do at the university, the research we do at the university, it's on the back of a lot of grad students,” Bostelman said.

Groene suggested student athletes should make a choice.

“You want to go into a big, bad free enterprise this and then do it, football player. If you want a free education, then stay in college. That's there, but they want it both ways,” he said.

Chambers said students who aren’t athletes could transfer to another school if they find better opportunities, while scholarship athletes can’t do so without permission.

Sen. Julie Slama also expressed reservations about groups from across the business and political worlds being able to use student athletes.

“Bars, strip clubs -- the opportunities are endless. You can use that image however you choose, representing whatever political clause, representing whatever entrepreneurial effort that's willing to pay,” Slama said.

Sen. Steve Lathrop predicted the proposal would lead to bad consequences, because Nebraska won’t be able to compete with more populous, richer markets like those in California or Texas. But Lathrop said he’d vote for it anyway.

“We don't have the donors. We don't have the ability to keep up with those guys and pay our athletes to be the spokesman for a business. We don't have the media market to justify it. And I don't see us being able to keep up with where this is all going,” Lathrop said.

“On the other hand, I'm going to vote green (yes) because I think at least gives the university an opportunity to be in the game until a national solution is arrived at,” he added.

The bill says colleges would have to pick a date before July 1, 2023 to start complying. In the meantime, the NCAA has a group working on how to respond to the issue, and there’s a possibility Congress may act, as well. The bill got first-round approval on a vote of 36-4.









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