Under the proposal, colleges would not have the power to keep their athletes from profiting off advertising and endorsements.
In the bill’s words, higher education institutions may not adopt rules that prohibit their athletes from “earning compensation for the use of [their] name, image, or likeness when the student athlete is not engaged in official team activities; or obtaining professional representation, including representation by an athlete agent or attorney, for contracts or other legal matters relating to the use of the student athlete’s name, image, or likeness.”
The bill would also forbid schools from disqualifying athletes for financial aid because they earn money from their endorsements and clarify that athletic scholarships do not count as compensation.
Although Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) is carrying the proposal this session, he said he wouldn’t have supported it in the past.
“It’s very rare that I file a bill that, in the beginning, I’m against… I have changed my mind on the bill as I’ve grown to learn more and more about this subject,” he said.
“While compensation for student athletes has been debated for decades, a wave of new bills in state legislatures across the country has brought this issue to the forefront, and it’s necessary for the Texas legislature to pay close attention to this subject.”
Only two testifiers spoke on the bill: Chris Del Conte and Ross Bjork, the athletic directors of the University of Texas (UT) and Texas A&M University, respectively. Both said that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has been sluggish in addressing the issue of player compensation and agreed that legislation would outpace it.
“The NCAA will not be able to do this. It’s either by state, or it’s federal legislation,” Bjork said.
“We’re all hoping that it becomes federalized and there’s a comprehensive nationwide package… I don’t believe we can [wait].”
Though Creighton pitched the bill in part as a way for Texas universities to attract good athletes, Del Conte said it should only focus on letting individual athletes profit and should not be a “recruiting inducement” in which the universities are involved.
“As a student at UT, normal students can make music, dance, and make profit off that,” Del Conte said, noting that athletes cannot.
The watersmeet of university and student profits became a center of debate, particularly with Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), who tempered his criticism of certain clauses with avowed support for the bill.
“If indeed the purpose of the bill is to recruit students to attend the university to play, then by using the bill to do that, it would be illegal as the bill is drafted,” West claimed.
With bipartisan support for the bill, discussion among the members was otherwise tame. Sens. Drew Springer (R-Muenster) and Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) put the bill’s morality clause under a microscope to pick apart restrictions on contracts to endorse gambling, guns, or tobacco and alcohol. Creighton explained the bill’s morality clause as a safeguard against athletes endorsing products they would be too young to use, and Birdwell pointed out that long guns and the lottery are available to 18-year-olds in Texas. Springer, mindful of vaping and other delivery methods, asked to change the wording from “tobacco” to the more specific “nicotine.”
State Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) carried a similar bill last session after California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the “Fair Pay to Play Act” into law. State legislatures have flirted with the proposal across the country for years, drawing divergent opinions not just from lawmakers but famous athletes as well.
Basketball star LeBron James, who went straight to the NBA without a collegiate career, praised California’s choice to let college athletes make money off endorsements in 2019.
“I understand what those kids are going through. I feel for those kids,” James said.
“Me and my mom, we didn’t have anything. We wouldn’t have been able to benefit at all from [going to college.] The university would have been able to capitalize on everything.”
Minor league baseball player and former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow chided the law and foretold an end to the distinction between collegiate and professional sports.
“When I was at the University of Florida, I think my jersey was one of the top-selling jerseys around the world. It was like, Kobe, LeBron and I was right behind them, and I didn’t make a dollar from it, but nor did I want to,” Tebow said.
“I know we live in a selfish culture where it’s all about us, but we’re just adding and piling it on to that; where it changes what’s special about college football. We turned it into the NFL where who has the most money, that’s where you go.”
Including California, six states have passed such laws. The NCAA criticized the “Fair Pay to Play Act” after it passed in California, arguing that such changes at the state level will create an imbalance in national competitions.
“As a membership organization, the NCAA agrees changes are needed to continue to support student-athletes, but improvement needs to happen on a national level through the NCAA’s rules-making process… As more states consider their own specific legislation related to this topic, it is clear that a patchwork of different laws from different states will make unattainable the goal of providing a fair and level playing field for 1,100 campuses and nearly half a million student-athletes nationwide,” the group stated.
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