By JERRY NOWICKI
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Monday gave his support to a proposal that would allow college student athletes in Illinois to be paid for the use of their likeness.
At a news conference in his Springfield office, Pritzker touted the bill as one addressing a “need for innovation in our modern collegiate sports system.” Lawmakers joining the governor called the proposal a moral necessity, a recruiting tool and an effort to force the hand of the NCAA – the governing body that oversees college athletics.
“I’m asking the General Assembly to join us in passing this bill in the veto session, making Illinois the second state in the nation to stand up for giving student athletes their rights in a billion-dollar industry that they helped build,” Pritzker said.
The measure is House Bill 3904, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, of Hillside. It is a duplicate of a California law which passed this year. Just like California’s bill, Illinois’ would take effect in 2023.
Welch’s proposal states any association, including the NCAA, “may not prevent a student athlete … from earning compensation as a result of the use of the student’s name, image, or likeness.”
The bill also prohibits the NCAA from barring a university from competition if its athletes are compensated in such a manner, and prohibits universities from upholding any rules that ban endorsements. The bill would apply to both public and private universities.
Currently, art students can be paid to sell art, and college musicians can be paid to perform, but athletes cannot be compensated for their performance, lawmakers said.
“Young men and women who stimulate the economics of the NCAA should also be able to secure their own economic well-being,” Welch said.
Welch said he expects to call the bill for a vote Tuesday in the House Higher Education Appropriation Committee.
Sen. Napoleon Harris, a Harvey Democrat, said he experienced his likeness being used firsthand when he played football at Northwestern University. Harris said he saw several people wearing jerseys with his number, but he could not receive any compensation from the sales of those products.
“This bill is about parity, and it’s about equity,” he said. “I can recall coming from Dixmoor, Illinois, going to Evanston, Illinois, and then playing football there for four years, and my mom did not have the means to take care of things that I may have needed and wanted. But on campus you see coaches making millions of dollars, you see the presidents making millions of dollars and you see stadiums being filled.”
While the bill also allows student athletes to hire agents, it does not pave the way for them to seek salaries or payment, outside of scholarships, from their college or university, Welch said. A new amendment would also require those agents to register with the Illinois Department of Professional Regulations.
When asked if the bill would prove a greater benefit to athletes playing more popular sports, Pritzker said it could open up partnerships with local businesses for smaller schools and less popular sports.
When asked about whether athletes should be able to receive salaries, Pritzker said the bill is a good conversation starter when it comes to forcing the NCAA to rethink its current structure.
“This bill is a good way for us to move forward and have the NCAA start to answer questions about compensation and whether student-athletes should receive and how they should receive compensation for what they do,” Pritzker said.
The NCAA opposed California’s efforts to pass such a bill.
“As a membership organization, the NCAA agrees changes are needed to continue to support student athletes, but improvement needs to happen on a national level through the NCAA’s rules-making process,” the association said in a statement. “As more states consider their own specific legislation related to this topic, it is clear that a patchwork of different laws from different states will make unattainable the goal of providing a fair and level playing field for 1,100 campuses and nearly half a million student athletes nationwide.”
The association said it will “consider next steps in California,” while its members “move forward with ongoing efforts to make adjustments to NCAA name, image and likeness rules.”