NIL compensation bill for NCAA athletes uncertain after transgender athlete ban fallout

Andrew Bahl
Topeka Capital-Journal
A bill coveted by the University of Kansas, Kansas State and other universities to allow student-athletes to receive limited compensation died in the Kansas Legislature last week.

A bill coveted by the University of Kansas, Kansas State and other universities allowing student-athletes to receive limited compensation is facing significant uncertainty in Topeka, prompting concern that recruiting efforts will be negatively affected.

It comes amid a desire from a top Senate Republican to tie the issue to separate legislation banning transgender athletes from girls' and women's interscholastic sports.

The compensation bill would allow student-athletes to sign with an agent and profit off their name, image or likeness in a variety of ways. A player could pen an endorsement deal with a local business, for instance, or paid to promote certain brands on their social media accounts. 

The legislation would, however, ban the direct paying of players, although scholarships and financial aid are exempted from the bill.

But Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, drew a line in the sand, saying Friday his chamber wouldn't take up the matter without also addressing the more controversial measure of banning transgender athletes in girls' and women's sports.

More:College athletes in Kansas could soon be able to sign endorsement deals, profit from name, image, likeness

That proposal appeared to have run its course after members couldn't overturn a veto from Gov. Laura Kelly last week. Critics, including some Republicans, have opposed the measure on moral grounds, as well as concern over the potential for sporting and economic boycotts if the legislation were to become law.

More:Kansas legislators fail to overcome veto on transgender athlete ban, as supporters look to future

 But Masterson said he didn't want to create a situation where transgender athletes could profit off their participation in women's competitions. Conservatives have pushed the measure, arguing it protects the integrity of women's sports.

"The most notable female athletes, absent this kind of protection, could potentially (be) biologically male, and we don't want to create more confusion or (incentivize) more discrimination against our young women," Masterson said in an interview Friday.

Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, presides over the Kansas Senate on the final day of the body's wrap-up session on Friday.

Masterson said he wasn't impressed by lobbying from universities, comparing it to statements by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, who threatened to move events from states which pass transgender athlete bans.

"My girls aren't for sale," Masterson said.

Kansas basketball coach Bill Self, others lobby for NIL compensation

The state's universities have been pushing for the legislation all session, with Kansas men's basketball coach Bill Self personally lobbying lawmakers in recent days.

Their concern is Kansas institutions will be at a disadvantage in recruiting as other states pass NIL bills. This is of particular concern for Kansas men's basketball, which is perennially one of the top programs in the country.

"It makes sense, due to the fact that they recruit nationally, that there could be two or three 5-star recruits that could go elsewhere and not want to look at the schools in Kansas," House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, said in an interview Monday.

At least one state lawmaker said he was contacted by Kansas men's basketball head coach Bill Self, with Self pushing for legislation allowing student-athletes to compensate off their name, image and likeness.

Sen. John Doll, R-Garden City, was one of the lawmakers Self contacted, owing both to the pair's personal relationship, as well as Doll's vote in opposition to the transgender athlete ban.

Self, perhaps the highest profile sports figure in Kansas, could "not understand how someone could tie the two together," Doll reported.

"I told him he was being played," he said of Self inadvertantly wading in the transgender athletes debate. "They're not inter-related, those two bills."

Representatives for the athletic departments at KU, Kansas State and Wichita State didn't return a request for comment.

More:Gov. Laura Kelly and GOP lawmakers reach a deal on how to dole out federal COVID-19 relief dollars

Florida and four other states have laws that will take effect in July and over half a dozen other states have passed measures which begin in 2022, which is when the Kansas proposal was also set to kick in.

Universities believe the 2022 start date might give Kansas a chance to rectify the matter next session, but concerns about the impact on recruiting remain.

"Kansas must be prepared to enact this bill to address this complex matter and allow our universities to remain competitive by preserving the integrity of the sports that each institution offers," former KU Athletic Director Jeff Long told the House Judiciary Committee earlier this session.

NIL issue could still be addressed, lawmakers say

The bill passed the Kansas House overwhelmingly in March and members in that chamber expressed surprise at the Senate's decision not to consider the measure. 

"(Universities) are concerned about recruiting and they're concerned about athletes coming to Kansas if other states are willing to compensate them for name, image and likeness," said Rep. Fred Patton, R-Topeka, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. "That's why the House thought it was important to get that legislation passed."

House members even attempted to add the name, image and likeness language to the state budget in an eleventh hour move, but their Senate colleagues opted to pass, arguing there wasn't time to review the proposal.

More:Lawmakers passed a deal to fund Kansas schools. Here's what you need to know.

Ryckman didn't rule out taking the matter up this session, saying he would be discussing the issue with his Senate colleagues. Legislators return for the ceremonial end of session on May 26, although they could take up legislative business if needed.

"I think there is (a path forward) if all parties want it to happen," Ryckman said.

In a follow-up text message, Ryckman pointed to the NCAA's threats to move events out of Kansas, as well as its past opposition to NIL efforts, as rational for moving forward on the compensation piece.

"I see no reason to let the NCAA and unfairness win a second time this session," Ryckman said in the statement.

Doll, who is also a supporter of the NIL bill, said the governor would likely reject any effort to combine the two measures, and he said he would be "disappointed if she didn't."

"This transgender (bill) is a hate bill," Doll said. "It is covered already. All we're doing is kicking sand into a subset of people. I would hope the governor would veto it — it is a wrong bill." 

NCAA, Congress could get involved with NIL bill

Kansas isn't the only state where the issue of transgender athletes in women's sports has become linked to student-athlete compensation.

In Florida, lawmakers added language to their transgender athletes ban delaying the state's name, image and likeness provision from taking effect.

That prompted coaches and student-athletes to lobby Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto the legislation, although their objection was to pushing the compensation element back a year. Legislators ultimately shifted gears to address the issue.

It is also possible the compensation issue is addressed either at the federal level or by the NCAA.

More:Top Kansas lawmakers pessimistic for chances of medical marijuana passage this year

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., has introduced NIL legislation in Congress with bipartisan backing that is largely similar to what is being proposed in Kansas and elsewhere.

And NCAA President Mark Emmert said Friday he would push for rules allowing athletes to be compensated before July 1. The body has been considering such a move for months but has yet to take action.

"We need to get a vote on these rules that are in front of the members now,” Emmert told the New York Times.