The setting for Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s bill signing ceremony Thursday morning was the University of Georgia football recruiting lounge overlooking the field of Sanford Stadium.
“I can’t think of a better venue than this one to really do something like this,” said Kemp, a UGA graduate and Bulldogs fan. “If I was a five-star recruit, I personally wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but Athens, Georgia.”
Nearly 93,000 fans pack the stands of the stadium on fall Saturdays in a typical season to watch a team chock full of future NFL players in games shown nationwide on ESPN and CBS. The SEC’s lucrative media contracts help the school receive about $45.5 million in the conference’s most recent revenue distribution, and the football program generated $57.1 million a year in contributions from donors in the latest NCAA financial report – but that money doesn’t go directly into players’ pockets.
The name, image and likeness bill passed by the Georgia General Assembly will allow athletes to start cashing in after Kemp put pen to paper Thursday surrounded by six state legislators including Sen. Bill Cowsert, Sen. Frank Ginn, Rep, Houston Gaines and Rep. Marcus Wiedower, who represent Athens. The law takes effect July 1.
Georgia President Jere Morehead and athletic director Josh Brooks were among some 50 in attendance for the ceremony. No Bulldog coaches were seen at the event.
The new law allows college athletes in the state to be paid for things such as endorsements, autographs, personal appearances and social media posts.
“I believe it sets Georgia to accomplish something that quite honestly should have been done a long time ago,” Kemp said. “I’m a little biased, but I believe this is going to give coach (Kirby) Smart every bit of help he needs to bring home a national championship.”
The state law could be superseded by federal legislation that still could be passed before July. Or it could be challenged in court by the NCAA, which – absent a federal law – could approve a package of related rules changes similar to one that had been scheduled for a vote in January but was tabled. In that scenario, the strength of the association’s legal position could be affected by the Supreme Court decision expected later this month or in June in the Alston antitrust case.
“Who knows what’s going to happen at that federal level?” Kemp said after the bill signing. “They just can’t seem to get anything done and agree on anything. That’s one reason we took this step. It’s going to be interesting to see what the NCAA does and also what the conferences do down the road. You can’t afford not to be competing with other states just because of the dynamics of the game and the economics of it today.”
Morehead, who serves on the NCAA’s Board of Governors, said: “I think long term our hope is that there will be a federal solution down the road. Perhaps by July 1. It may come later. It may never come. We can’t predict what Congress is going to do. The goal would be to see uniformity across the country.”
He said he would expect the NCAA would allow "accommodations" to be made for athletes in states with NIL (name, image, likeness) rules.
"We're starting the ball rolling with the hopes it will be a more global solution," said Cowsert, a co-sponsor of the bill who said other states creating NIL laws spurred Georgia into action.
Smart said Wednesday on "The Paul Finebaum Show" on the SEC Network: “We don’t know the rules we’re going to play by. It’s like playing a game that you don’t know the rules to. Everybody’s kind of on pins and needles. … Where it goes I’ll be very interested to see.”
Alabama, Mississippi, New Mexico and Florida will also have their own NIL laws taking effect July 1. At least 12 states already have NIL laws signed by governors, including Arkansas, whose law takes effect Jan. 1. A bill in South Carolina has passed both legislative chambers, and bills are moving through legislatures in Louisiana and Texas.
“I’m of the opinion that we need Congress to engage, which they’ve done, and actually to enact a name, image and likeness-related law so we can have a common standard for this student-athlete economic activity,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey told Finebaum. “That’s a baseline … If what we have is a set of states with laws, a set of states without laws and those with laws being very different, it’s going to be incredibly difficult to manage college athletics.”
Texas football coach Steve Sarkisian promoted on social media how that program is best at building a brand and expanding an athlete’s platform. Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins retweeted a post that he’s a head coach “who truly understands branding and marketing … Recruits looking to cash in on NIL should be looking at @CoachCollins & @GTFootball … ESPECIALLY recruits from Georgia.”
Two former Georgia football stars were suspended during their college playing days for violating NCAA rules for taking money for their autographs: wide receiver A.J. Green for selling a signed bowl jersey and running back Todd Gurley for signed memorabilia.
“It’s just a different age, it’s a different time," Kemp said. "College football is so big now. The finances are so big. The players have a lot at risk. You’ve got other sports where people can go pro right out of high school. I think this is the right step at the right time in the right direction to try to continue to protect the student-athlete but also give the athletes the benefit of what others are getting across the sports world."
The new Georgia law has a provision under which schools have the option of creating a “pooling arrangement,” which would result in current athletes who receive NIL compensation being required to contribute a percentage of that money to a fund that would be distributed among all athletes who had either graduated or were out of school for least a year.
The intent is to give schools the ability to level out high-revenue generating athletes with others in the school’s athletics program. However, it could hurt a program's recruiting if star athletes could play in another state and be able to earn more.
“We have no plans to provide for a pooling arrangement,” Georgia deputy athletic director Will Lawler said. “We are continuing to work to understand the nuances of the pooling arrangement provision.”
Lawler said Georgia athletes will be able to start earning compensation July 1.
Cowsert said of the pooling provision: "It’s not fair for just the skill players to take all the money, otherwise why is somebody going to block for you?”
Georgia has contracted with an outside firm, Altius Sports Partners, to help Bulldog athletes understand NIL policies and monetize their intellectual property. UGA athletes will learn about personal branding and business formation and opportunities with camps, clinics and such merchandise as T-shirts and bobbleheads.
USA Today’s Steve Berkowitz contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared on Athens Banner-Herald: Georgia name, image, likeness bill is signed