SPRINGFIELD — College athletes in Illinois would be able to independently profit from their image or likeness under a bill passed Saturday in the Illinois House.
It’s the latest development in a decades-old debate regarding policies overseen by the NCAA, which is the governing body of most intercollegiate athletics. It still needs approval from the state Senate and the governor to become law.
Senate Bill 2338, sponsored by state Rep. Kam Buckner, D-Chicago, allows college athletes in Illinois to be paid for the use of their name, image and likeness, or voice while enrolled at a post-secondary education institution.
It also gives college athletes the ability to obtain an agent or legal counsel. It would take effect July 1 or immediately upon the governor’s signature if it is after that date.
Buckner said the measure was personal to him as a former football player at the University of Illinois. He said he and UI athletic director Josh Whitman have partnered on passing the change.
The issue of allowing college athletes to be paid has been a topic of much debate in the sports world for decades as the NCAA has barred college athletes from profiting from brand endorsements on the basis of amateurism.
The bill does not allow for salary payments for college players, but rather allows athletes to monetize their likeness, such as participating in autograph signings at local businesses or appearing in video games.
“This is really putting Illinois in the right position to be the tip of the spear and lead when it comes to making sure that our young people have autonomy over their name and likeness and image and they’re no longer subject to not having the ability to control that,” Buckner said Saturday on the House floor.
In 2013, CBS News reported that a group of college athletes sued the NCAA and EA Sports for using their likenesses in EA’s “NCAA Football” video games. The lawsuit was eventually settled with the group for $60 million.
Buckner was a party to the class-action lawsuit against EA Sports for using his likeness without compensation, which was another motivation for this legislation, he said.
“We’ve seen that the NCAA has recognized this as an issue, but they have refused to actually move on it and they’ve had some ceremonial votes about it, but they have not done anything,” Buckner said.
The NCAA was preparing to revise its policy on the matter in January but indefinitely delayed the vote after recommendations from the U.S. Justice Department to hold off on making a decision. A revised policy could come by the end of the year, and advocates for bills like the one passed Saturday have said such measures could force nationwide action.
In March, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a case challenging the NCAA’s ban as a violation of antitrust laws. A decision in that case is still pending.
Several states across the nation have moved forward with similar bills, including California, as well as some Southeastern Conference schools such as Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Buckner said schools from the Big Ten are also coming on board with the initiative.
A bill similar to Buckner’s was initially introduced by then-state Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, in 2019. Welch, who is now House speaker, formerly played baseball for Northwestern.
Welch’s proposal received pushback for its inadequate protections of athletes and lack of restrictions on unseemly endorsements. His effort to passed the House but was voted down in the Senate.
Buckner’s bill includes limits on products student athletes can endorse, resolving some of the opposition that led to the failure of the 2019 bill. He said there are about nine prohibited categories in the bill, including alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, sports betting and gambling.
The bill saw broad bipartisan support, passing out of the House on a 95-18 vote. State Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, R-Elmhurst, who voted in favor, said she still had some lingering concerns about athlete protections.
“The reason why I’m concerned about that is … the fact that we’re invoking the federal law and relating to sports agents, that doesn’t necessarily create a true fiduciary duty to protect the long term financial needs of the student,” Mazzochi said.
Mazzochi suggested adding a provision to increase legal protections for the college athletes through the creation of trust funds.
“Students in this type of area are very easily financially exploited and the lawyers and the agents won’t necessarily have their best interests at heart,” she added.
SB 2338 will now advance to the Senate for further consideration.