LAWMAKERS LOOK AT STUDENT-ATHLETE COMPENSATION
(AUSTIN) — With more than thirty states already considering legislation to allow college athletes to earn compensation from their on-field performance, the chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee warned members that unless Texas acts, it could see its best high school athletes leave to attend institutions in other states. The Supreme Court is currently considering a case that could open the door for federal regulation of this issue, but if it is left to the states, Texas could lose out to those that took action. "Many of these states are some of the biggest competitors for recruiting in Texas, including California, Florida and Michigan," he said. "If we don't act, we risk major disadvantages as other states are quickly making changes, and this could have long term damage to our athletic programs and the students that are considering coming to Texas."
Creighton offered a bill, SB 1385, that would establish an initial framework permitting student athletes to profit off of their name, image, and likeness, often abbreviated to NIL. Increased awareness of universities and other entities reaping billions in profits from the performance of student-athletes, very few of whom go on to lucrative pro careers, has led to national momentum in favor of some way to compensate these athletes for the value they add to institutions. Creighton said that when he began talking with college athletics administrators last November, the consensus then was to wait for guidance from the NCAA, expected to be released in January. That didn't happen, and Creighton said the state now has to move forward quickly. The initial draft of the bill would have enacted the law in January 2022, but the committee substitute presented Wednesday moves that up to September of this year. "This is a reflection of the urgency of the issue and other states are already using their new state laws to attract recruits away from Texas universities," said Creighton.
Chris Del Conte and Ross Bjork, the athletic directors for the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University, respectively, told the committee they support building a framework that lets student-athletes earn compensation for their on-field accomplishments. "This bill will be a huge benefit, not only to the institutions, but more importantly, student athletes," said Bjork. Traditional compensation in the form of scholarships have been incrementally expanded over the years, he said, from including moving to cover the full cost of attendance, rather than just tuition, and adopting four- and five-year guaranteed scholarships and unlimited nutritional support. "In my view, this will be the next evolution in college athletics," Bjork told the committee.
There are still many details to be worked out: questions about how much student-athletes can earn, who they can earn from, how the university deals with students signing deals with conflicting brands, and many other potential problems. This draft of the bill does contain some guardrails. It would forbid colleges from using potential NIL earnings as a recruiting tool and would prohibit athletes from earning compensation from certain industries, namely, tobacco, gambling, alcohol, and sexually-oriented businesses. The bill restricts the use of official university intellectual properties like logos or slogans, and requires a conflict resolution process in the event that a student signs a deal with a competitor to a company endorsing that student's institution.
Creighton told members that he began this process as a skeptic, but as he's learned more and more about the issue, it's clear that the state needs to get ready for this eventuality. "The tide is changing from college campuses, to statehouses around the country, all the way to the Supreme Court," he said. "If Texas wants to maintain its place at the top of NCAA recruiting and at the top of the competitive level, we need to be prepared."
The Senate will reconvene Thursday, April 8 at 11 a.m.