SPRINGFIELD – One month ahead of the tipoff of March Madness, Illinois lawmakers are renewing a push to allow college athletes to profit from the use of their name and likeness.
Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch called a Chicago news conference Friday to push for his Student Athlete Endorsement Act, or House Bill 3904, which is awaiting a vote in the Illinois Senate.
“In a little over a month, the NCAA is going to see its cash cow start – March Madness,” he said. “And the students won’t see a dime from March Madness. And all we’re saying is let’s be equitable and let’s be fair. Let’s let students profit off their own name, likeness and image.”
The bill would allow collegiate athletes to be paid for the use of their name and likeness and would prohibit the NCAA – the association which oversees major college athletics – from punishing students who take part in the payment or the universities they attend. It would not allow for payment of salaries by universities.
Welch said it requires any endorsement contract to be disclosed to universities and allows students to sign with agents who must be licensed with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulations.
It would take effect in 2023. The reason for the grace period is to allow for an expected legal challenge, Welch said in October.
The bill passed the House with bipartisan support in October during the fall veto session, but failed to reach a vote in the Senate. He said the chamber’s change in leadership at the time could have stalled the proposal, which is backed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, but he believes “the time is right” to move it forward once again with a new Senate president installed.
On Friday, Welch was joined by brothers Shannon and Sterling Brown, who both grew up in suburban Maywood, graduated from the Proviso Township High School District and played basketball at Proviso East High School before entering the NBA.
The pair founded the Brown Brothers SALUTE foundation which provides “events, programs, services and resources to under-served youth and adults within low income neighborhoods.”
Shannon Brown said that while he considered the possibility that endorsement deals for athletes could “detour them from actually going out and pursuing their dreams and their goals,” he believes the level of sacrifice made by college athletes deserves compensation.
“I want to see them and their families thrive on the work that they put in,” he said. “I feel like enough hard work is put in that these kids should definitely be able to benefit from it in a way that is positive.”
While the NCAA announced in October, just before the bill’s House passage, that the association would “start the process” of changing its rules to allow athletes to profit from their name and likeness, Welch said at the time the move was a public relations stunt and pressure from states was still necessary.
This week, the Associated Press reported that NCAA President Mark Emmert urged the U.S. Congress to “put restrictions on college athletes’ ability to earn money from endorsements, telling a Senate committee Tuesday that federal action is needed to ‘maintain uniform standards in college sports’ amid player-friendly laws approved in California and under consideration in other states.”
The NCAA opposed the California bill, which Illinois’ legislation mirrors.
Republicans have questioned how the bill would impact smaller schools, whether bigger name players would have an advantage and whether endorsements could be performance-based.
But Welch responded in floor debate, saying small-school athletes could pair with local businesses, entire teams could be sponsored and players’ contracts with their schools would address performance-based incentives.
He also said he was open to follow-up legislation.
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