After NJ senators get into the act, student athletes can get sponsorships

Cunningham and Lagana challenge NCAA with statewide bill

NJ State Senator Sandra Cunningham
NJ State Senator Sandra Cunningham

In a surprising move, the NCAA Board of Governors voted to allow student-athletes to be paid for the use of their names, images, and likenesses once the NCAA divisions come up with a list of guidelines. The ruling came just over a day after New Jersey Senator Sandra Cunningham (D-Hudson) introduced a bill that, if passed, would prohibit four-year colleges and universities in New Jersey from banning athletes from seeking outside compensation.

NCAA stakeholders will consider updates to their policies, according to Board Chair and President of Ohio State University Michael V. Drake.

Guidelines include that “student-athletes are treated similarly to non-athlete students unless a compelling reason exists to differentiate,” that the organization can “maintain the priorities of education and the collegiate experience,” and “ensure that rules are transparent, focused, and enforceable.”

Cunningham, chair of the Committee on Higher Education, introduced the bill with Senator Joseph Lagana (D-Bergen) that would allow college athletes to receive compensation for the use of their names, images, and likenesses. Under NCAA rules, college athletes are not allowed to take money for appearances, or to be paid for advertisements that hinge upon their talent.

The bill was dubbed the “New Jersey Fair Play Act” and is modeled after similar legislation that was signed by California Governor Gavin Newsom on Sept. 30. The California legislation, designed to prohibit schools from penalizing athletes who receive sponsorship income on the side, is not slated to go into effect until 2023.

The New Jersey bill, which has not yet been voted on, places limits on what students’ images can be used to advertise. Students can not be compensated to promote adult entertainment, alcohol, gambling, tobacco, e-cigarettes, pharmaceuticals, drugs, or firearms.

Following the NCAA’s Oct. 29 decision to adopt allowances for student-athletes to be compensated, Lagana and Cunningham released a joint statement asserting that the NCAA bowed to pressure from legislators in New Jersey, California, New York, South Carolina, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania.

The legislators believe that New Jersey government, however, should still have a seat at the table and not leave everything to the NCAA.

“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,” Cunningham and Lagana said in the statement.

First bill in the country hit the table a month ago

The NCAA had long stood by its former rule, opposed policies similar to the Cunningham-Lagana bill, claiming that if only a small number its athletes were able to get sponsored it would create an unfair recruiting advantage. It argued in several statements that allowing students to receive endorsements of any kind would “eliminate the distinction” between college and professional sports.

The NCAA’s rule has come under scrutiny recently due to the increased revenues the organization receives.

In 2017, the NCAA, a nonprofit, took in a reported $1.06 billion in revenue, which has led many to question whether the organization should be barring student-athletes from getting a piece of the action. Also, should student athletes have to forgo sponsorships in order to be admitted into an NCAA division?

“Universities are making immense profits from their athletic departments, and while students receive scholarships, one serious injury can leave them with no scholarship, no way to pay for the remainder of their degree, and no real path on how to move forward with their life or their career,” Cunningham said in a statement. “By allowing students to accept endorsements and profit off their likeness, we can put them in control of their future, without having to rely entirely on the goodwill of the school they attend. The time has come for us to stand shoulder to shoulder with our student-athletes and stand up to the NCAA’s outdated, unfair rules.”

The NCAA argues that any change in policy must happen on a national level, through the organization’s rules-making process.

“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 NCAA said in a statement upon the passage of the California bill.

Lagana said in a statement that he considers the NCAA’s former ban on sponsorships to be inequitable. He argues that college students in any other discipline, such as the arts, have never been restricted from seeking outside endorsements for appearances or advertisements.

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