State lawmakers are just a step away from allowing athletes at Arizona colleges and universities to profit from their skills, at least indirectly.
With only one dissenting vote, the House Education Committee approved a measure requiring all schools to allow student athletes to earn compensation from the use of their own name, likeness or image. That would pretty much place them on par with professional athletes who now can get cash for endorsements and other products and services bearing their names.
Potentially more significant, SB1296 would ensure that any student who takes advantage of this does not lose a scholarship or forfeit the right to compete. And Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, said that, by extension, it means that their schools don’t end up getting dinged by the National College Athletic Association which sets the rules that schools must obey.
Only Rep. Beverly Pingerelli, R-Peoria, voted against the measure.
With the Senate already having approved the measure on a 29-1 margin, the bill now goes to the full House. And Gov. Doug Ducey has previously indicated he is open to the idea.
All this is occurring as the NCAA itself is trying to figure out ways to update its own rules. That, in turn, was forced by several states already approving laws like the one being considered here.
Shope told lawmakers that the underlying issue goes back even further to when an UCLA athlete found that an image of someone who looked particularly like him, right down to skin tone and jersey number, was being used without his permission in a video game. Joined by other athletes, that resulted in a lawsuit that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
He said the athletes, most of whom were at least 18, should have had the right to consent to — and profit from — those images.
Shope stressed that nothing in the legislation would result in students actually being paid to play. But he said there is no reason they should be precluded from profiting from their abilities.
The shortcomings of the current law were pointed up by Mike Haener, lobbyist for Arizona State University. He cited the case of Anthony Robles, an ASU wrestler, who won the NCAA individual wrestling championship in his weight class in the 2010-2011 season despite being born with only one leg.
“He actually did write a book,” Haener told lawmakers. But that could not happen until after Robles graduated because he would not have been allowed before then to make money from it.
“He had to wait until he was out of college before he could profit from his own story,” Haener said.
Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, said the change in law makes sense. She said universities have been able to profit from the images of their athletes in ways that have been denied to their students solely because they participate in interscholastic sports.
“If they were not an athlete but were any other student on the campus, be it a regular student, be it an activist, a performative student, other avenues, they could write books, they could set up training camps, they could make money through YouTube channels,” she said.
The measure does have some restrictions.
Most notably, it bars a student athlete from entering into a contract if it would interfere with any contracts that the team and the university already have with a company that may have a conflict.
Rep. Bret Roberts, R-Maricopa, expressed some concern about ending the nature of amateur sports. But he agreed to support the measure based on the “free market capitalism aspects” of the bill.