Pay-to-Play Gets Mixed Views from Pro-NIL State Legislators

Daniel Libit
·7 min read

Ramogi Huma, the college athlete rights activist who helped spur California’s 2019 Fair Pay to Play Act–state Sen. Nancy Skinner’s pioneering name, image and likeness legislation, which inspired copycat bills across the country–sees a sequel coming soon to a statehouse near you.

Earlier this year, another Golden State legislator, then state-Rep. Sydney Kamlager, introduced the College Athlete Race and Gender Equity Act, which pushes the athlete compensation ball beyond NIL by requiring schools whose athletic departments earn over a certain revenue threshold to pay their players a “royalty fee.”

The legislation, which has since been turned into a two-year bill, won’t get a hearing until early 2022, leaving enough time for the Supreme Court to rule on athlete scholarship caps in NCAA v. Alston, as well as for a potential national solution to NIL to be implemented.

“We definitely see this as a type of bill that will absolutely catch fire once again,” said Huma, who runs the National College Players Association. Having spent almost two decades pulling levers for college sports reform, Huma said statehouses will continue to serve as the best laboratories of capitalism for intercollegiate athletes–more than the courts or Congress.

As Sportico previously reported, since Skinner introduced California’s SB 206, all but 11 states have at least seen NIL legislation proposed—a marvel of political consensus rivaling any other recent initiative in the United States. Currently, 11 states have signed bills into law, with two others—Georgia and Maryland—just awaiting the signatures of governors. Crucially, in less than three months, NIL laws are set to take effect in at least four states.

But Kamlager, who became a state senator in March following a special election victory, thinks that despite the tailwinds behind NIL, legislating pay-to-play will be a slog.

“I definitely think this is a long game, and it takes a while to kind of loosen the recalcitrance in college sports,” said Kamlager, “because the NCAA has just had an ironclad hold on every aspect of this issue.”

Kamlager’s caution is also underscored by the comments of several other pro-NIL politicos around the country, including state legislators who have sponsored bills that have passed. In recent interviews, they gave mixed responses when asked about their personal support for—or general expectations for—future statutes that could expand college athletes’ earning opportunities beyond the right of publicity.

Chip LaMarca, the Florida Republican state senator whose bill became a national pacesetter with its July 1 effective date, indicated that NIL is the end of the line for him when it comes to college athletes.

LaMarca flatly said that he’s “not interested in revenue-sharing,” adding that he expects it to take at least a couple of years to “flesh out how well (NIL) works.”

“I would tell you if the NCAA did what they should have done and evolved like the rest of society, they would have handled this on their own, and I regret any state house in America is having a conversation about college athletes,” said LaMarca.

Across the country, in Nebraska–whose flagship university has been on the vanguard of NIL–Democratic state Sen. Meghan Hunt says she doesn’t see her colleagues or constituents receptive to additional compensation for college athletes.

“I don’t think it is where we are,” said Hunt, whose NIL bill was signed into law last summer. “It was honestly pulling teeth just to get NIL….Taking it further is asking too much in Nebraska.”

In January, Nebraska’s legislature bid farewell to its most indefatigable college athlete advocate: Ernie Chambers, who had spent decades unsuccessfully proposing legislation that would recognize athletes as state employees, retired.

For Hunt’s part, she thinks there’s not much more for states to do on amateurism.

“It needs to trickle up–the pressure needs to be on Congress at this point,” said Hunt.

New York state Sen. Joe Griffo, the sponsor of an NIL bill that would go into effect immediately, said he worried about an expanding “hodgepodge of different rules across the country.”

Across the border, New Jersey state Sen. Joe Lagana, the sponsor of an NIL bill enacted in September, said he hasn’t given additional college athlete compensation “a ton of thought.”

“I personally think that is a conversation that is many, many, many years away, because I see what it took to get a bill passed to where we are now,” said Lagana. “In New Jersey, I believe if I proposed that at this point in time, it will meet a lot of resistance.”

South Carolina state Sen. Marlon Kimpson is all too familiar with this political resistance, having proposed several failed pay-to-play bills since 2015. Kimpson’s latest attempt came in December, when he pre-filed a bill that would have required schools like Clemson and the University of South Carolina to create trust funds of up to $25,000 for their athletes, paid for from athletic department revenues. In the end, however, Kimpson ended up co-sponsoring a far more conventional NIL bill.

“In my dream world, it would have been more encompassing, more in line with the appreciation of the economic contributions that these young men and women make to their universities,” said Kimpson. “Having said that, I am a Democratic legislator in a red state, and if you look at the bill that did pass the Senate on to the House, it only passed by one vote.”

Julie Sommer, a lawyer and board member for The Drake Group, who has been diligently tracking name, image and likeness bills across the country, believes the legislative momentum will ultimately end with NIL.

“There are just so many other issues that come up with the pay-to-play scenario that make it so complicated,” she said.

Nonetheless, Huma contends that recent history has shown how quickly the dominos can fall.

“Everybody’s contentment [with NIL] will change if we can get a bill like AB 609 passed,” said Huma, referring to Kamlager’s legislation. “We now have a precedent…The NCAA has already lost its power and the fear that they have instilled in states.”

Huma also thinks recent events beyond the sports world could have an increasing impact on the issue, focusing more on the economic rights of black college athletes in particular.

“Even with NIL, the racial justice component was not as front-and-center in all the discussions,” Huma said. “But now, with where this nation is, it will be much more compelling than even just a couple years ago.”

Kimpson, a Democrat, intends to re-file his legislation for college athlete stipends when the South Carolina General Assembly reconvenes in 2023—and he already has an angle.

During the floor debate over the state’s current NIL bill, a Republican state senator, Chip Campsen, argued that since NIL opportunities would be disproportionate among athletes, it could breed dissension within their ranks. To further his point, Campsen offered an amendment to pay every athlete a stipend while they attended college, a proposal Kimpson said was a “poison pill” meant to derail the legislation.

However, Kimpson said he plans to commandeer Campsen’s rhetoric, for his own initiative, come next session.

“I can use the words of a more conservative senator about fostering team(work),” Kimpson said.

Meanwhile, Griffo said that New York is sensitive to the risk of being left behind.

“The general consensus is we don’t want to disadvantage New York institutions or New York college sports because California is doing something an athlete might [want],” Griffo said. “That is what we want to avoid and prevent, and we may be forced into those actions.”

Lagana is betting states will proceed with a more conservative approach. If pay-to-play legislation sweeps the country, he said, “It could take another decade or two decades. But who knows? There are a lot of things going on in this country that I didn’t think could ever happen.”

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