Louisiana lawmakers slowed their applause inside the State Capitol. Kim Mulkey, LSU's recent blockbuster women's basketball head coaching hire, set her notes down on the podium, lowered the microphone stand, picked her notes up again.
She whooped. She smiled. She began her recruiting pitch for a landmark bill that holds implications for both collegiate athletes seeking the opportunity to earn revenue based on their stature and Louisiana universities that don't want a slow start in what is seen as an inevitable change in college sports.
"The NIL," Mulkey said, addressing representatives of both the House and Senate. "Please, please listen to me. It's going to change all of college athletics. It's going to change your life, your grandchildren's life and everybody's life. Study it. I'm not a lobbyist. I'm just an old country girl that loves to compete and loves this state as much, if not more, than most of you. I appreciate, I'm honored to be here. Make a difference. Make a difference in somebody's life."
Yes, a bill addressing NIL (the colloquial abbreviation for "name, image and likeness") is working its way through the Louisiana state legislature. Similar legislation has already been enacted into law by 15 states, and six will go into effect by July. Among those states are Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi. All of them have a start date pegged for July 1. All of them are homes to universities that compete directly with Louisiana schools.
Louisiana athletic officials — athletic directors, administrators, coaches — have been highly engaged at the Capitol since the legislative session began last month, fueled by a sense of urgency that their athletic programs could possibly lose a substantial edge in recruiting if Louisiana's own NIL bill isn't signed into law this summer.
It's why former LSU gymnastics coach D-D Breaux advocated for the bill while addressing the House of Representative's education committee two weeks ago when the legislation was first filed. It's why Mulkey addressed lawmakers last week. It's why LSU Executive Deputy Athletic Director Stephanie Rempe answered the state Senate finance committee's questions Wednesday, testifying that the bill won't be produce additional costs to the state general fund.
Even Sen. Bodi White, R-Central, the chairman of the finance committee, addressed the bill's obvious implication after the committee officially labeled the legislation "favorable," ready for a vote on the Senate floor.
"I know we want to get out front," White said, nodding toward Rempe. "I wish you the best. I'm not going to say it's a recruiting tool. But it is."
It's why Louisiana's college athletic officials are anticipating the hearing and eventual vote on the Senate floor. That may happen Monday, said Sen. Patrick Connick, R-Marrero, who sponsors Senate Bill 60, and, if passed, the bill would then move to the House, and, if passed again, it would await signature into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards.
It's also why there's another critical feature within the bill: If it passes, it will be enacted immediately upon Edwards' signature, which, depending on if and when it is signed, could make it the first NIL law in the nation to be enacted.
Connick, lawmakers and athletic officials say they don't see any major opposition that would prevent the bill's passing. If it weren't for the coronavirus pandemic, it's possible that such a bill would've already become law. Connick sponsored similar legislation last year before it was tabled while focus shifted to the state's public health and safety.
Name, image and likeness was college sports' headline issue in the months preceding the pandemic. A wave of legislation drafts swept across the country, state by state, after California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the first such bill into law in October 2019.
The NIL debate persisted through the pandemic, with plans and movements mostly emerging at the start of this year. The NCAA, pressured by states following California's law (which is set to go into effect in 2023), released a set of guiding principles for NIL bills in January. The governing body has indicated that it is working on its own NIL rules, but state governments, leery of the NCAA's inaction on the issue, have already begun taking legislative action.
Federal bills have also been discussed in Washington D.C., and it's possible national NIL legislation ends up taking precedent over the laws states pass. The U.S. Supreme Court is also reviewing NCAA v. Alston, a case that isn't directly related to NIL but allows the nation's highest court the opportunity to review the NCAA's controversial definition of amateurism.
Athletic administrators, coaches and legislators say it spells out a future quite clearly: the debate surrounding whether a college athlete will be compensated for their name, image and likeness is over.
"This is an inevitability," Tulane athletic director Troy Dannen said. "Whether it comes from the states, whether it comes from the NCAA, whether it comes federally, everyone's seen this coming."
So why push toward passing a state law?
There's no certainty of just when the NCAA will pass its own NIL rules or when a federal bill will pass or what the Supreme Court's ruling will be. All that's set in motion currently are the six states, which include Arizona and New Mexico, that have laws that will take effect in July.
"Other states are doing it," Connick said. "The NCAA is not moving. We need to make sure that we're leading the way at all costs. We can't just sit back and let the NCAA not act. We have to go ahead and be part of the game instead of just watching from the sidelines."
Urgency also stems from the NCAA's recent ratification of its one-time transfer rule, which allows athletes in all sports to transfer to another school and play immediately if it's their first time transferring.
Public officials in states that have already passed such laws have touted it as a recruiting advantage. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis championed his state as "a great landing spot" for "blue-chip" recruits when he first signed an NIL bill in June, and, when the law's start date was bumped back a year due to language in an unrelated bill in April, Florida sports figures bullied the state legislature until it restored the NIL start date to July 1.
"You have to remember you've got the transfer portal out there looming," Breaux said, "and why would our student-athletes not be attracted to go someplace that would allow them the freedom to do this under the law of that state and with the university's total support of this?"
Star LSU gymnast Olivia Dunne has a social media following poised for massive NIL opportunities: over a million Instagram followers, 3.8 million more on TikTok. As a freshman, Breaux said, Dunne has a "small window" to capitalize on her platform.
"She can go anywhere she wants to go," Breaux said. "Her gymnastics credentials are that good. This is about keeping our kids here, keeping our programs competitive and it's an unbelievable opportunity for our student-athletes who are very active in the social media world."
States which pass NIL laws appear they could indeed have an advantage over those which don't, if state laws are the only rules in effect for a period of time. Florida state Sen. Travis Hutson told 247Sports that NCAA president Mark Emmert assured him the NCAA wouldn't penalize Florida schools or athletes for using their NIL rights, even if there were other states that didn't have such laws.
That assurance toward Florida, Tulane's Dannen said, signals an unfair precedent that schools in states without NIL laws could challenge because of an important distinction: there are no federal or state laws prohibiting college athletes from pursuing NIL contracts. The NCAA is the governing body that penalizes such deals, and the forthcoming state laws bar the NCAA from doing that. So, if the NCAA doesn't punish one state that does have NIL laws, Dannen argued, it can't punish others that don't.
"If Louisiana doesn't do anything," Dannen said, "I'd be hard pressed understanding why we shouldn't as an institution do something because, again, I want to make sure my student-athletes are protected and entitled to the same opportunities every other kid is."
So, if Louisiana doesn't pass an NIL law this summer... if any other state doesn't pass an NIL law by the others are enacted in July... if there is no overarching rule established by the NCAA, the Supreme Court or the U.S. Capitol... if the NCAA indeed doesn't penalize schools and athletes in states with NIL laws in place... just what kind of Wild West of accountability will unfold?
"I don't know," LSU's Rempe said. "That's what's a little bit frightening."
Because of these risks, UL athletic director Bryan Maggard said, he's "fully anticipating" Louisiana's NIL bill will pass. In an inevitable development, he says "the more guidance and parameters there are the better," and his athletic department staff has already prepared for the transition to the new era.
So has Tulane. Gabe Feldman, director of Tulane's Sports Law Program, leads an NIL education program within the university's Center for Sport that began this academic year.
Connick's senate bill itself calls for universities to conduct educational workshops for players for a minimum of five hours at the beginning of the player's first and third academic years. LSU's Rempe told the state finance committee Wednesday that LSU "will do a lot more than five hours" to educate athletes about their NIL opportunities.
There's a misconception that the bill is just for elite athletes, Rempe said. That it's a bill that would only largely benefit high-profile players like former Heisman quarterback Joe Burrow, whom, Rempe admitted, would have indeed stood much to gain from such a law.
She points out examples like lesser-known football players from small towns in Louisiana who could possibly post an advertisement on their social media accounts and receive a $5,000 gift card that their family can use. Or a soccer player who gets paid to attend someone's birthday party.
"There's just all kinds of examples," Rempe said.
Which brings up a unique portion of Senate Bill 60: Louisiana college athletes would have the opportunity to broker deals through a third party that would allow them to use their school's official logos, marks or colors in NIL deals — a provision that is either prohibited, briefly mentioned or absent in the other state bills pegged for July.
The conventional vision of an NIL deal where a star college athlete endorses some sort of product or service on their own. Such a setup would work fine for a Joe Burrow or Olivia Dunne, Tulane's Feldman said, but "there is a notion that for some athletes it might be difficult to identify them outside of their jersey and their connection to the university."
Under Connick's bill, a school and athlete could arrange a joint deal through a third party that allows the athlete to wear their jersey in a commercial. In such a deal, which universities already broker with companies that use their marks and logos, the athlete and school would both be compensated in some determined amount.
Still, the university holds ultimate permission for its marks and logos. The student, under the proposed bill, also is prohibited from endorsing tobacco, alcohol, illegal substances or activities, banned athletic substances, or any form of gambling.
There are still key kinks to be sorted out. A major question remains who or what group will provide oversight that the 18 sections of the Louisiana bill are being followed?
Dannen says, for now, the most likely option is that every NIL deal a player signs will be reviewed by a school's compliance office.
Tulane's compliance office has three employees and a part-time assistant, and Dannen said he's already set aside a placeholder in this year's budget for one additional hire once an NIL law goes into effect.
"Most institutions are used to monitoring these things," Dannen said. "It's just one more layer of complexity for our folks to monitor."