Amid ‘wild west’ of college recruiting, a Kansas bill could allow college athlete pay for name, image and likeness

College athletes in Kansas could soon be allowed to benefit off of of their name, image and likeness if the Kansas Legislature passes a bill backed by several university leaders. (Submitted to Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Representatives of several Kansas universities support a bill allowing collegiate student-athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness as soon as 2022.

Kansas is one of about 35 states considering similar legislation to a bill passed in several states in recent years, including California and Florida. NIL rights are part of an ongoing debate across the country over proper compensation of student-athletes.

The proposed bill would allow athletes at Kansas colleges and universities to sign with an agent, enter into endorsement deals and even appear in an NCAA football video game once they are at the institution.

Student-athletes would not be compensated directly by a university for their play. Rather they can capitalize on their talents outside of the institution. Allison Garrett, Emporia State University president and vice-chairwoman of the NCAA Division II Presidents Council, described it as a “pay-while-playing” bill rather than “pay-to-play.”

Allison Garrett, president of Emporia State, said the proposed legislation is essential to keeping Kansas college athletics on an even playing field with other states. (Screen capture of Kansas Legislature YouTube/Kansas Reflector)

“As a Division II school, we are very much focused on ensuring that our students are able to graduate well prepared for life because, quite honestly, even at the Division I level, very few student-athletes will go on to play professional sports,” Garrett said in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee.

With several states acting to pass these NIL laws and Florida’s measure set to take effect July 1, proponents of the bill said acting swiftly is necessary to ensure Kansas collegiate athletics are on an even playing field with other states for recruitment. If passed, this measure would serve as a buffer until the U.S. Congress takes a stance on the issue.

Following the flurry of NIL activity, the NCAA established a working group to discuss the issue. Recommendations from the working group led to a planned vote on new, modernized NIL rules similar in language to several states’ bills, but a Jan. 8 letter from the U.S. Department of Justice halted the vote.

The letter cautioned the NCAA against wading into the issue as it could result in antitrust law issues. In a release following the letter, NCAA president Mark Emmert said he had full confidence the proposed rules and regulations would be in compliance with any such laws but chose to table the vote anyway.

A formal request by the NCAA that legislators act on the issue this year has been submitted to Congress, Garrett said.

There is a hope that Congress will act quickly, but in the event it does not, Kansas must ensure it is prepared for the new “wild, wild west” of college recruiting, said Jeff Long, athletic director for the University of Kansas.

“Each state bordering Kansas already has a similar NIL bill pending,” Long said. “When state law goes into effect, this will ensure colleges and universities within our state are not put at a disadvantage during this interim time period.”

If passed, the new standards would go into effect Jan. 1, 2022.

Long noted this may also put off the fight for student-athletes to be considered employees under an institution, something universities are wary of for its fiscal impact on the athletics department. He hypothesized that paying athletes for their work would force colleges to cut several sports programs.

Kansas State University athletic director Gene Taylor said some recruiting and financial guardrails are needed to ensure the measure does not create disparity between different universities and sports. (Screen capture of Kansas Legislature YouTube/Kansas Reflector)

While Kansas college sports advocates are hoping to be on an even playing field with schools in other states, they are wary of the potential recruiting disadvantages the proposal could cause between schools and athletic programs of different sizes, prestige and gender.

That is why proponents mentioned the need for regulation to be built into any legislation. Legislators also considered if there should be a cap on incentives an athlete can earn.

“We do have to recruit our student-athletes. They choose to come to our institution. They aren’t drafted, so we want to make sure we have guardrails in here, so it doesn’t cloud the recruiting process,” said Gene Taylor, athletic director for Kansas State University. “Absolutely, incredibly important that we also protect Title IX and are fair to our women athletes.”

Legislators were split on the need to act expeditiously on the bill, but future discussion on the issue is expected.