University leaders testify in support of student-athlete compensation, stress importance of staying competitive

photo by: Conner Mitchell

Kansas Athletic Director Jeff Long testifies before the Kansas Senate Commerce Committee on March 4, 2020.

Story updated at 11:31 a.m. Wednesday

Leaders of higher education institutions across the state of Kansas testified Wednesday in favor of legislation that would allow student-athletes in the state to profit off the use of their names, images and likenesses.

The topic of student-athlete compensation continues to dominate collegiate athletics, and those leaders cautioned that governing the issue of paying amateur athletes will present challenges in the future if not regulated in the right way.

University of Kansas Athletic Director Jeff Long said the university was conscious of the ever-evolving landscape of collegiate athletics. A landmark California law signed in 2019 — which allowed student-athletes in the state to profit while in school — has brought change to college sports that universities simply can’t avoid any longer, Long said.

“College athletics is in uncharted territory and the future competitiveness of our university intercollegiate athletic programs in the state of Kansas could be at risk unless we take protective action,” he said.

Without a similar law in place, all 18 sports at KU would be at a disadvantage when trying to recruit student-athletes, Long said.

“Kansas universities will be left to abide by the outdated and changing NCAA rules (if a law is not passed),” Long testified. “This would then allow universities in states that have already enacted their own bills regarding (names, images and likenesses) to recruit according to their state’s laws while (other states) wait for the outcome of the federal process — if there is one forthcoming.”

The Kansas Senate Commerce Committee also heard from Emporia State University President Allison Garrett and Kansas State University Athletic Director Gene Taylor as part of Wednesday’s testimony. No action was taken on the legislation. It’s unclear when or whether the bill will come up for a vote in the committee.

Lawmakers at times seemed skeptical that issues wouldn’t arise with athletes seeking out third-party contracts and profit from their names and images. Long and Garrett assured the committee that the language of the bill was strong enough to give universities control against unwanted sponsorship for their athletes — such as a high-profile basketball player seeking a Nike contract while playing for an Adidas school.

Kansas is one of 32 states so far to consider some form of legislation allowing student-athletes to profit off their names, images and likenesses, according to Mit Winter, a Kansas City-based sports law attorney. So far, though, California has been the only state to sign a bill into law — though it won’t go into effect until 2023.

Kansas’ bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Longbine, R-Emporia, dictates that a university like KU would be unable to create a rule that prohibits a student-athlete from earning money for the use of his or her name, image or likeness. If an athlete does earn money, that compensation can’t be counted against the athlete’s eligibility for a scholarship.

The bill also says that the colleges and their athletic departments are not able to pay athletes for their names, images or likenesses. The freedom to earn money comes from the athlete’s ability to negotiate with third-party entities that partner with an athlete to promote a product, such a video game or apparel.

Student-athletes could also be represented by a certified agent or attorney for any negotiations with a third-party entity — free from any interference by the university or its athletic department, as long as the third-party contract doesn’t violate any standing agreement those departments have with another company.


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