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

Andrew Bahl
Topeka Capital-Journal
Student-athletes at the University of Kansas and other universities could profit off of their name, likeness and image under legislation being considered in the Kansas House.

Athletics programs at the University of Kansas, Kansas State and Wichita State could be poised to get a boost in recruiting student-athletes from an unlikely source — the state legislature.

That's all thanks to legislation that would allow student-athletes at universities to profit from their name, image and likeness (NIL), a hot button national issue that is getting a look in Kansas as well.

To many this is an issue of fairness — as college sports has become big business, many believe the athletes deserve a chance to cash in. Others believe it is too soon to pass a bill, arguing more time is needed to make sure it can benefit all student-athletes and all sports.

But as similar debates crop up in 35 states nationally, as well as within the U.S. Congress and the National Collegiate Athletic Association, colleges in Kansas believe they need some framework in place to remain competitive with their rivals.

Florida and California are among the states who have actually passed NIL legislation. Florida's law is set to take effect this summer, meaning that universities in Kansas are getting nervous about a lack of action from Topeka.

"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," said Jeff Long, athletic director at KU, during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the matter last month.

The NCAA was well on its way to formulating national guidelines for players to be paid to appear in advertising, video games and other endorsements while using their stature on campus as a moneymaking tool.

More:NCAA Division I Council delays vote on transfer rules and name, image and likeness

But a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice in January, as well as a pending case before the U.S. Supreme Court, tabled those discussions. Mark Emmert, the NCAA's president, has called on Congress to instead take action in the meantime, allowing for standardized restrictions in other states.

Washington D.C. has yet to weigh in on the matter, although U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., is pushing bipartisan legislation to allow for name, image and likeness compensation in every state.

“It is no secret that college athletics have grown into an increasingly profitable, billion-dollar industry, however the rules surrounding athlete compensation have not been modernized," Moran said in a press release announcing the bill.

But there is no clear timeframe for Moran's legislation, or even whether Congress is interested in weighing in on the matter. Rep. Susan Humphries, R-Wichita, said that only increased the urgency for state-level action.

"This really is about a level playing field for Kansas, for now, until we get those federal things worked out," she said. "It is a stopgap until we figure out what is true for every state."

Kansas' bill would allow student-athletes to sign with an agent and use their name and platform in a variety of ways. It would, however, ban the direct paying of players, although scholarships and financial aid are exempted from the bill.

The effort is not without its critics.

Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, cracked that the legislation would let Kansas and Kansas State schools do what their Big 12 rival, the University of Oklahoma, has done for years and "pay people under the table."

But he quickly became serious, arguing that the bill does not account for inequities that he believes are going to emerge. 

More:Justice Department warns NCAA over transfer and name, image, likeness rules

Men's basketball players at Wichita State and other schools likely have a higher earning potential than their female counterparts, he said. That could run into issues with Title IX, the landmark federal law aimed at equalizing participation in college athletics between genders.

"The curling team will not bring in nearly as much money as the basketball team. This bill does not address those inequities," Carmichael said. 

He said the legislation was being rushed because legislators did not want to be blamed by constituents for their favorite teams having trouble recruiting players, who might be attracted to states like California and Florida who have passed NIL legislation.

"The problem we have before us is, do we want to pass legislation before us that is not ready for prime time because we want to make sure the Jayhawks and the Wildcats and the Shockers have a good recruiting season," Carmichael said. 

The bill is set for a final vote in the Kansas House Tuesday