Sports

New Bill Could Allow Student-Athletes to Make Money in Illinois

 

When the Loyola men’s basketball team made its run to the 2018 NCAA Tournament Final Four, the program received $405,000 for advancing that far and its publicity was valued at more than $300 million. Maroon and gold gear flew off the shelves. Chicago caught Rambler Fever.

Due to NCAA rules, the players didn’t make a penny off any of it — and an Illinois state representative is looking to change that.

State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch (D-Westchester) filed House Bill 3904 (HB 3904) Sept. 30, which would enact the Student Athlete Endorsement Act. If it passes the Illinois House of Representatives and the state Senate and gets signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, all student-athletes across Illinois would be able to make money off endorsement deals and jerseys could be sold with players’ names on the backs beginning on Jan. 1, 2023.

NCAA bylaw 12.5.1.1 explicitly states student-athletes can’t make money off their name or likeness. That means a Loyola athlete — whether they play basketball, volleyball or one of the other five Division I sports at Loyola — can’t do a commercial for businesses or have their name featured on the backs of jerseys sold as merchandise.

“Items that include an individual student-athlete’s name, picture or likeness (e.g., name on jersey, name or likeness on a bobblehead doll), other than informational items (e.g., media guide, schedule cards, institutional publications), may not be sold,” the bylaw reads.

But some states are starting to take matters into their own hands. 

Hanako Maki | The PhoenixThe Loyola men’s basketball team celebrates its win in the Elite Eight.

California was the first state to do so Sept. 30 when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the Fair Pay to Play Act into law. At least nine states, including Illinois, Ohio and Florida, have either introduced similar bills or are planning to draft legislation.

The NCAA issued written statements decrying the law in California, threatening to ban California schools from the NCAA Tournament and sue over the law. The NCAA didn’t respond to The Phoenix’s request for comment. 

As California was moving its bill through its legislature, Welch said he started drafting a bill of his own in Illinois. He filed his bill the same day Newsom signed the Fair Pay to Play Act. 

Welch said he did this so Illinois could act fast to keep up with California — for reasons on and off the playing field.

“It’s about being on par and on level and being able to recruit and compete with a state like California,” Welch told The Phoenix in a phone interview. “We are a state with two Big Ten schools. … If I’m a coach in California right now and I woke up and the government signed that bill, that’s a recruiting tool. So we want to level the playing field as soon as possible.”

Although the bill in Illinois would allow student-athletes to make money, Welch said like in California, it wouldn’t require schools to pay athletes a salary. Instead, it would allow athletes to decide whether or not they want to make money off autograph sessions or endorsement deals.

“If I’m a coach in California right now and I woke up and the government signed that bill, that’s a recruiting tool.”

— Emanuel “Chris” Welch (D-Hillside)

Welch, who played baseball at Northwestern University from 1989-93, added the bill would benefit schools of all sizes — whether they’re high-majors like Big Ten Conference school University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign or mid-majors like Loyola, a Missouri Valley Conference school.

“I think it helps Loyola, I think it helps DePaul, I think it helps Bradley in Peoria,” Welch said. “At the end of the day, you can say, ‘You can come to Illinois, you’ll be allowed to sign these deals and you can help promote some of our local businesses in town,’ because many of these athletes are big names in these college towns.”

Loyola Athletics spokesperson Bill Behrns said Athletics Director Steve Watson and men’s basketball head coach Porter Moser wouldn’t comment on the bill. Other well-known Division I coaches have taken a stance on the issue, though.

Northwestern football head coach Pat Fitzgerald — the 2018 Big Ten Coach of the Year — was asked about the California law during a press conference last week. He said he didn’t know enough about the law in California to go into detail, but he was “a proponent of whatever is in the best interest of student-athletes,” according to Northwestern’s student newspaper, The Daily Northwestern.

Shortly after, legendary Duke University men’s basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski, who grew up in Chicago and has won more games than any other Division I coach in history, released a statement prior to Atlantic Coast Conference media day in support of the bills.

“I don’t — and won’t — pretend to understand all the complexities of such a change,” Krzyzewski said. “However, it is a sign of the times that we in college athletics must continually adapt, albeit in a sensible manner.”

The Illinois House of Representatives won’t vote on HB 3904 until it reconvenes for the veto session, which starts Oct. 28. A veto session is a period in which state legislatures gather to review bills the governor has vetoed and sometimes take up new legislation.

Welch said he and his 16 co-sponsors plan to go “full speed ahead” to get the bill passed quickly. But they’re prepared for any legal challenges along the way.

“[The NCAA has] a bottomless pit of money,” Welch said. “And they want to keep that bottomless pit going against [these bills]. That’s why the effective date’s 2023, [to] give us some time to deal with any litigation that may come forward.”

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