Tennessee lawmakers may soon allow athletes at Vanderbilt University, the University of Tennessee and other colleges in the state to make money from endorsement deals.
“Name, image and likeness” (NIL) legislation is scheduled to be considered by the House on Monday and the Senate sometime next week. If enacted, it would make Tennessee the latest of several states to institute such rules, which would give athletes the opportunity to make money off their name while still in school.
There’s something of a nationwide race building to institute such legislation: Four states, including neighboring Mississippi and Alabama, have laws going into effect on July 1 and lawmakers and university supporters worry that their states could miss out on recruits if they don’t allow athletes to make money.
The NCAA is also considering a nationwide NIL framework but has yet to announce a plan to implement it. Schools have been skittish about discussing the issue as the NCAA considers it; Vanderbilt’s athletics department declined to make any administrators, coaches or athletes available for comment.
“I’m excited to see us getting it done, but more importantly I’m excited to see those students — especially those that come from poor backgrounds, those that come from poverty, first-time college students in their family — that they’re going to be able to eat,” said Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis), who has pushed similar legislation for several years and is a cosponsor on the current Republican-led proposal. “The NCAA has been getting fat, the colleges have been getting fat. These kids have not even had an opportunity to eat off of their own name and likeness.”
The current Tennessee legislation, if approved, would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2022 and include some limitations. For example, athletes could not get endorsement deals to promote gambling, tobacco, alcohol or adult entertainment, and endorsement deals could not be contingent on an athlete’s attendance. Schools would be required to offer athletes a financial literacy course as part of the proposed law.
Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), the lead Senate sponsor, warned that a failure to act could mean that “we are going to be left behind on the recruiting trail.”
“It’s time we treat college athletes like everyone else in America and allow them to earn money in the free market,” he added. “The NCAA and our state universities make billions of dollars off college athletes, and it is unfair not to allow the athletes themselves to profit from their own names and faces.”
While Parkinson said he is “cautiously optimistic” and the legislation has successfully navigated House and Senate committees, it’s not guaranteed to pass next week. Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, the Republican leader of the Senate, said Thursday he had not reviewed the bill but added that an infusion of money into college athletics “could really ruin the sport.”