Time to cash in: Illinois’ NIL laws go into effect Thursday after years of pressure for legislature

Rep.+Kam+Buckner+and+Gov.+J.B.+Pritzker+pose+with+the+newly+enacted+name%2C+image+and+likeness+bill+at+State+Farm+Center+on+Tuesday.+Illinois+student+athletes+will+be+able+to+profit+off+NIL+starting+Thursday.

Rep. Kam Buckner and Gov. J.B. Pritzker pose with the newly enacted name, image and likeness bill at State Farm Center on Tuesday. Illinois student athletes will be able to profit off NIL starting Thursday.

By Claire O'Brien, Sports Video Editor

For years, Illinois student-athletes have competed without compensation. Athletes like Giorgi Bezhanishvili, who took advantage of his effervescent personality through T-shirt sales and paid appearances immediately after announcing his decision to go pro, have been unable to capitalize on the platform and fame they garnered through competing at Illinois.

Ayo Dosunmo appeared in Illinois Lottery advertisements soon after he turned pro. Under a new Illinois law, he would have been able to appear in those ads while still competing for the Illini.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the state’s name, image and likeness bill on Tuesday on the University of Illinois campus, and the law went into effect two days later. Student-athletes at Illinois universities are able to sign name, image and likeness deals starting Thursday. 

Pritzker previously supported a 2019 bill allowing Illinois athletes to sign name, image and likeness deals, but the bill never passed both chambers of the General Assembly. The University of Illinois, among other universities, had representatives testify against the bill, but by April 2020, Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman publicly supported name, image and likeness for athletes.

Over the past several years, Illinois lawmakers have proposed bills to allow student-athletes to earn compensation in some form, and the state has been at the forefront of efforts to do so. Pritzker praised lawmakers for passing the bill and noted the state’s role in advocating for better conditions for student-athletes.

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    “When I sign this bill into law, Illinois will lead the United States in giving student-athletes the opportunity to sign endorsement deals of their own, joining a growing coalition of states leading the fight for innovation in our modern collegiate sports system,” Pritzker said. 

    “Let me be clear: Illinois is now at the forefront of this movement.”

    Illinois lawmakers often pass progressive legislation, but as far as name, image and likeness goes, Illinois is in a multi-way tie for the first state to enact legislation, alongside Texas, Mississippi, Ohio, Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama and Florida, among others.

    Though Pritzker said the bill was among the most progressive legislation in the nation, Illinois’ name, image and likeness bill contains many of the same provisions many other states do. Universities cannot stop athletes from signing NIL agreements, but athletes are required to inform their schools within seven days of signing an NIL agreement. 

    For instance, in Texas, athletes have many of the same rights and responsibilities as their Illinois counterparts. Both Illinois and Texas universities cannot punish athletes for entering into NIL agreements, but athletes have to let the universities know if they do so. 

    Unlike Illinois, the Texas legislation does not spell out a specific time frame for when students have to disclose the NIL deal to their university, just that athletes must disclose before they sign.

    Illinois universities also have a framework to work with, since they are authorized to hire a third party to oversee NIL implementation. The University announced it was working with Opendorse on NIL in February, long before the Illinois legislature considered the name, image and likeness bill.

    The NIL bill comes after years of Illinois student-athletes and lawmakers’ efforts to get the NCAA to share its wealth with the people whose efforts generate it.

    In 2014, the Northwestern football team attempted to unionize. The National Labor Relations Board denied the union request in August 2015 because the student-athletes were primarily students, not employees. 

    The following legislative session, in 2017, Rep. Thaddeus Jones (D-Calumet City) introduced a bill that would require public universities to pay $25,000 per year to student-athletes who compete in the three sports that generate the most revenue — and the athletes would be considered employees, which would allow them to unionize.

    The legislation was never voted on by committees or by the entire House. In 2019, Jones reintroduced the legislation, but the bill never advanced out of committee. 

    Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (D-Hillside) also introduced legislation in 2019 authorizing student-athletes to be compensated for their name, image and likeness. Pritzker supported the bill, and the Illinois House passed it, but neither the Illinois Senate nor any Senate committees ever voted on it. Jones was a co-sponsor of Welch’s bill, as was Rep. Carol Ammons (D-Urbana).

    Had Welch’s bill been signed into law, Illinois would have been among the first states to implement name, image and likeness legislation. The bill would have been effective Jan. 1, 2023, the same day as California SB 206, the first NIL bill to become law. California lawmakers are working to pass legislation to bump up the effective date of its NIL laws.

    But in 2019, Illinois universities opposed Welch’s bill, and representatives from Northern Illinois, Illinois State, Eastern Illinois, Southern Illinois, Chicago State, Northwestern, Loyola Chicago and Illinois testified against the bill.

    Jones also introduced a name, image and likeness bill in September 2019. Under Jones’s bill, student-athletes would not have been punished by universities for name, image and likeness. The law would have been effective immediately. Had Jones’ legislation passed, Illinois would have been the first state to allow college athletes to have name, image and likeness deals. Jones’ legislation was never voted on by committee or the House, but some of the points made in that legislation were included in the 2021 law.

    In 2021, as a number of states proposed legislation to allow athletes to receive compensation for name, image and likeness, Illinois lawmakers added an amendment to a truancy bill that would allow college athletes to be compensated for name, image and likeness. On May 19, a number of representatives from Illinois universities, including many who had opposed the 2019 legislation, testified in favor of the amendment. Rep. Kambium Buckner (D-Chicago), former University of Illinois football player, sponsored the bill.

    The bill passed the House, 95-18, on May 31, just before the legislative session ended. It was then sent to the Illinois Senate, which voted to approve the amendment, 56-2, the same day. Pritzker signed the bill June 29 at the State Farm Center, and it became effective two days later. If Pritzker had signed the bill after July 1, it would have been effective immediately after signing.

    The bill notes things like scholarships, financial aid and non-sports-related jobs athletes hold in the community are exempt from being NIL revenue. Currently, athletes have to run any employment by the compliance office to be sure they don’t profit from athlete status, but the bill is unclear when it comes to whether they will need to continue to do so.

    While athletes are able to earn compensation for their name, image and likeness, the money they earn will not be coming from universities. The laws in Illinois and Texas explicitly state that athletes are not employees, which would keep them off the university’s payroll — and also prohibit athletes from forming a union. Athletes cannot sign NIL agreements with their universities.

    In Illinois, universities also are not held liable for any name, image and likeness deals that end up harming athletes. A student-athlete can’t sue a university if a name, image and likeness deal goes awry.

    When he testified before Capitol Hill, NCAA President Mark Emmert expressed concerns that his organization would be sued for not implementing NIL sooner.

    In Texas, universities have to provide financial literacy courses to student-athletes in their first year and third year of college, but the law is silent on whether student-athletes can file lawsuits against universities. Neither the word “lawsuit” nor the word “liability” appear in Texas’ bill.

    Texas allows universities to veto NIL deals that conflict with the university but also bans ads for things like alcohol. Texas’ bill does not include any information on whether the universities can contract with a third party to oversee NIL implementation.

    As states’ legislation takes effect, the NCAA has needed to implement a national framework — and they’re asking Congress to do it for them.

    The organization disclosed in its 2021 Q1 Congressional lobbying report — the only lobbying report available for this calendar year — that it lobbied for three different name, image and likeness bills proposed by two U.S. Senators and one U.S. Representative:

    1. 414 Amateur Athletes Protection & Compensation Act (proposed by Sen. Jerry Moran, R- Kansas)
    2. 238 College Athlete Economic Freedom Act (proposed by Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut)
    3. H.R. 850 College Athlete Economic Freedom Act (proposed by Rep. Lori Trahan, D-Massachusetts)

    Since Congress did not pass any NIL bills before July 1, the NCAA decided to pass temporary rules about name, image and likeness hours before the states’ bills take effect. Though the NCAA passed rules at the last second, the organization didn’t seem inclined to stop states that had passed legislation.

    Buckner criticized the NCAA for its inaction on NIL but noted the organization hasn’t stopped the legislation.

    “I think that the NCAA can do a better job of, you know, integrating some solutions to this, but they really have kind of stepped back and told each state to do what they need to do,” Buckner said.

     

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