Senate bill would clarify name, image and likeness opportunities for college athletes

Senate Bill 6 would provide more concrete parameters in state law about what Kentucky college athletes can and can’t do

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) —Legislation moving in the Kentucky Senate on Wednesday would provide a framework in state law for college athletes to generate personal income off their name, image and likeness, known as NIL.

Questions over student NIL rights have been brewing since June, when the U.S. Supreme Court called for changes in the NCAA, and many college athletes in Kentucky have been operating under an executive order related NIL since July.

But Senate Bill 6 would provide more concrete parameters in state law about what Kentucky college athletes can and can’t do.

On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee heard from John Calipari, University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach, and UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart, who both offered support for the bill. It later cleared the committee with unanimous approval.

The bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Max Wise, R-Campbellsville, said the legislation would weave a thread of flexibility and balance for schools and student athletes.

“There are a lot of reasons why we’re here today, but one of the reasons we look at is the history and the past of the NCAA, and for them not being active in taking action on an issue such as this,” he said.

Calipari said the landscape of NIL continues to evolve, and he thanked the many people who have contributed to legislation.

“Today we’re met with an opportunity to address this evolving issue as the needs and demands of my players have changed. I’m confident with your interests as well as mine. We will share in creating the best opportunities for players while at the same time allowing men’s basketball at UK to remain the gold standard,” Calipari said.

Barnhart agreed with Calipari that NIL issues continue to change. He said the UK athletics department has over 800 transactions on file from about 250 student athletes.

“We’re seven months into this, and we know so little about it. We know a lot about it on one hand, and we don’t know where it goes from here,” he said. “And I think this bill gives flexibility to the growth in that place.”

Not every student has the desire to participate in NIL, but for those who do, it’s important to protect them, Barnhart said. He pointed to Masai Russell, a track and field student athlete and senior at UK who has worked hard to promote her brand and identity.

“It is remarkable what she has done, the way she works at it every day to do the things she does with social media, and she has probably I’m guessing has 300-to-350,000 followers in what she does. It’s pretty remarkable,” he said.

Senate Minority Floor Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, is co-sponsoring SB 6. He said Wednesday was not the first time lawmakers had considered the bill.

“We’re here today to make sure that that executive order doesn’t go away and to continue to improve upon the process as we’re all learning what this new environment of name, image and likeness is,” McGarvey said.

NIL is not paying student athletes to play their sports, and it does not allow a university or its athletics department to compensate student athletes beyond the scholarship and already permissible educational benefits, he said.

McGarvey likened it to student musicians giving lessons on YouTube or student artists who sell paintings.

“You can work at your craft. You can promote yourself,” he said.

The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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