College athletics: New bill could open new channels for athletes to make money

On Monday, Ohio State Senator Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg) proposed what boils down to a rule against rules.

A bill being introduced in the state legislature would prohibit the NCAA or any Ohio college from preventing their college athletes from seeking or entering into deals to allow them to profit off their name, image or likeness.

“These college students should be able to benefit from their own name, image and likeness,” Antani said at a press conference Monday in Columbus. “Most will not get endorsement deals from major shoe and apparel companies but rather from their hometown businesses such as an auto dealer or bookstore. My bill legalizes this in a safe manner.”

Antani used the example of Josh Myers — a Miamisburg High School graduate who recently finished his college football career at Ohio State and was drafted by the Green Bay Packers — being able to do sponsorships in the hometown they share. In discussing the impact of the bill, University of Dayton athletic director Neil Sullivan said the benefits extend to small-town athletes, such as former UD basketball player Ryan Mikesell of St. Henry.

Being a star in a town of 20,000 (such as Miamisburg) is one thing, Sullivan asked, but it is another to be from a town like St. Henry with about 2,000 residents.

“I think everyone wants to make make it about the 1 or 2 percent that Nike or Coke or Gatorade would be interested in, but for the vast majority of people, I believe it’ll be their college market and their hometown,” Sullivan said. “Imagine Ryan Mikesell being able to go back to St. Henry and speak at the Rotary Club or have an autograph session or to be able to host a camp there between his sophomore and junior year.”

Similar opportunities could also be lucrative for Olympic sport athletes, something Antani, Sullivan and Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith all noted.

“I personally believe that our Olympic sport athlete will actually benefit probably a lot more than some of the other sports,” Smith said. “Many of them are leaving with debt, so their incentive is even bigger.”

The idea of allowing athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness has caught fire over the past few years as the NCAA model of amateurism has come been criticized from multiple sides, including court battles and via legislation at both the state and national levels.

Smith said he had been part of previous discussions as long ago as 2001, and said he sees change as an educational opportunity.

While the bill also clears the way for current college athletes to hire outside representation to assist them in securing endorsements, that is not something the schools will be part of, officials said. That would leave student-athletes navigating a whole new business world while still balancing the challenges of athletics and college life in general, Smith said.

“The reality is we’ll be teaching our young people how to actually engage in endorsement opportunities — and it would include possibly appearances, it could possibly include autograph sessions, that could possibly include speeches to the employees of that organization — but also balance that with the time commitments that you have being an athlete and the commitment you have academically,” Smith said.

Smith and Sullivan seemed to agree the changes are an idea whose time has come.

“The university’s view is it’s inevitable that that name, image, likeness opportunities are coming to college sports,” Sullivan said “I think anyone that’s been following it realizes it’s time. And it’s been an issue that’s been discussed for really decades within the NCAA, but that clock’s ready to strike midnight.

“As a university, we believe it’s time to move on to the next phase of executing your name, image, likeness rights for college athletes, and we’re prepared to support them in that endeavor.”

In a statement, University of Cincinnati director of athletics John Cunningham said the Bearcats also support the proposed legislation.

“We look forward to working with the sponsor and the Ohio General Assembly on this important legislation along with continuing conversations with our colleagues around the state of Ohio and the country as we move forward on this significant issue impacting our student-athletes,” Cunningham said.

Antani noted 16 states have NIL laws ready to go into effect at some point in the future. In the case of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and New Mexico, that date is July 1.

“Ten other states have bills currently introduced into their state houses that would legalize their name, image and likeness,” he added. “We are in fact only one in 11 states in America, who have taken no legislative step towards name image and likeness ownership for student athletes. That changes today.”

A state-level bill could eventually be superseded by federal legislation (such as a version of a bill sponsored by former Ohio State receiver Anthony Gonzalez, a U.S. House of Representatives member from the Cleveland area), and it could become unnecessary if the NCAA passes its own rules overall in the next month or so.

“At end of the day, we need federal legislation — it has to occur,” Smith said. “It’s highly unlikely it’s gonna occur by July 1. Until then, until that ever happens, we’re going to have some level of chaos. All the bills are different everywhere from New York to Florida to California, so every environment is going to be operating differently.”

Ohio’s bill prevents athletes from going into business with any company that makes, markets or sells marijuana, tobacco products, vapes or alcohol. They are also barred from working with any casino or other entity that promotes gambling or pornography.

The proposed legislation also requires athletes to notify their school 15 days before a deal goes into effect in order for representatives to check the deal for conflicts with existing school sponsorships and partnerships.

Smith said the school would not nix any deals (aside from those not allowed because of conflicts or exceptions listed above), but he can envision advising athletes when they might reconsider how any agreement or sponsorship they do now might impact their reputation or earning power in the future.

With the clock ticking until some states begin allowing players to seek new ways to profit off themselves, Antani expressed confidence the bill will pass in time to go into effect July 1.

“Today is a great day for student-athlete rights in Ohio,” Antani said. “We’re introducing this bill, and we’re going to work very hard to get it passed. I’m very grateful for The Ohio State University’s support. I think that shows not only how much they care for their athletes but also is a testament to how much this needs to get done.

“I think it is a message to my colleagues in the General Assembly that this needs to happen, and it needs to happen quickly.”

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