A bill that would allow collegiate athletes in Louisiana to make money off their name, image and likeness was filed Thursday, a development that officially thrusts the state into the ongoing national debate over player compensation.
Filed by Sen. Patrick Connick, R-Marrero, the bill would prohibit athletic associations, conferences, schools or any "other group or organization" from keeping collegiate athletes from earning compensation "from the use of his name, image, or likeness."
The bill also would allow collegiate athletes to hire professional representation or legal representation, such as agents, as long as those representatives are registered in the state and are complying with state and federal law.
If passed, the proposed law would take effect on Jan. 1, 2023. A task force would also be created — made up of the state's college administrators, coaches, athletes and the Louisiana High School Athletic Association — to study the issue and make recommendations by Aug. 1, 2021.
Louisiana's regular legislative session begins on March 9, which marks the first time the bill could be brought before legislators for a possible vote.
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Connick said the bill "is the first step" for Louisiana to address a nationwide issue that has recently reached Capitol Hill. More than half of the states have proposed similar legislation, and two weeks ago, a U.S. Senate committee questioned NCAA President Mark Emmert about the subject during a hearing on college athletics.
Changes in player compensation at the college level is "inevitably" coming, Connick said, and he wants to kickstart policy changes in Louisiana and work with the state's legislative and collegiate institutions to "put a structure that's fair to everybody — the schools, the players."
"This is happening nationwide," Connick said, "and I think it's important for Louisiana to get in front of this and not follow behind it."
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Connick said he thinks every collegiate institution should be involved, but LSU is "the big-league team" that draws "the most visible players." Its flagship status, Connick said, would require LSU to take the lead and cooperate in the policy's process.
Connick said he informed LSU that he was filing such a bill "as a courtesy," but the institution was not informed of its specific details.
"I'm pleased to see progress on the issue of name, image and likeness," LSU athletic director Scott Woodward said in a statement Thursday. "It's important to our student athletes and it's important to LSU. The landscape is constantly changing, and we are seeing movement in multiple states and within the governing bodies of collegiate athletics. We are positioned to work with the NCAA and our conference on this issue moving forward."
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College athletics is one of the larger businesses in the country: The NCAA exceeded $1 billion in revenue for the first time in history during the 2016-17 school year.
LSU's football team made a profit of about $56.6 million in the 2018-19 academic year. The massive influx of money contributed to an overall athletic budget, helping cover athletic programs that lost money such as women's basketball, which reported a $4 million loss.
But LSU's athletic budget also includes substantial coaching contracts. In January, Tigers football coach Ed Orgeron signed a six-year extension worth a total of about $41 million — the sort of contract that critics say represents the disparity between highly paid coaches and players, who receive scholarships and stipends.
In 2019, 16 head football coaches made an annual salary of at least $5 million, according to USA Today.
Meanwhile, player compensation has changed minimally within the NCAA, which was formed in 1906. Students have long been offered scholarships in return for competing in sports for their school. Starting in 2015, the NCAA permitted athletes to receive an additional "cost of attendance" stipend of a few thousand dollars.
That minimal change, former players, coaches and sports pundits have argued, just isn't enough when leagues like the Big Ten Conference sign a six-year, $2.64 billion contract with ESPN and Fox Sports.
"A hundred years ago, they didn't have TVs and huge contracts with CBS and NBC and ESPN," Connick said. "Times have changed and we need to change along with those times."
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The recent wave of legislation across the country started in October, when California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill that allows the state's collegiate athletes to earn money by using their names, images and likenesses.
Newsom predicted his state's action would "initiate dozens of other states to introduce similar legislation."
His prediction was correct.
Several other states followed with their own legislation, and within a month of California's law, the NCAA's Board of Governors asked that the NCAA's three divisions come up with new player compensation rules by January 2021.
LSU coaches and players have mostly been in support of player compensation reform, as long as it sticks to name, image and likeness, and doesn't lead to institutions directly paying players.
"I believe the players should get as much as they possibly can," Orgeron said in October. "And am I fan of paying the players? No. But ... if there's a system where we can get these guys what they deserve without getting salaries ... I'm all for that. But I think it's got to be governed all in the right way. But that's not for me to decide. My job is to coach football, and whatever they tell me to do, I'm going to do."
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The Tigers had perhaps the nation's most popular college football player in 2019: the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Joe Burrow, a record-breaking player who helped the school win its fourth national championship in history.
Burrow is the prospective No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, and soon he is expected to sign his first professional contract, which will all but certainly pay him a substantial salary for the first time in his playing career.
The Ohio native has often spoken in favor of player compensation.
"I think that's the only fair way to do it," Burrow said in October. "They're selling my jersey, and I'm not really seeing any of that. But that's the law right now, and I think it's good to see that people are starting to trend the other way."
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