FRANKFORT, Ky. — Coaches and administrators filled a small cheering section Wednesday as Gov. Andy Beshear signed a bill regulating name, image and likeness compensation for college athletes in Kentucky.
The new law sets a framework for the athletes to profit off their notoriety, while university governing boards can adopt NIL-related policies for their school’s athletes.
It recognizes that athletes are the “main attraction” in college sports and deserve to be fairly compensated for use of their name, image and likeness, Beshear said. Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, a former college basketball player, called it “step toward equity for the athletes that we cheer on.”
Rhyne Howard, a star on the University of Kentucky women’s basketball team, thanked the lawmakers for passing the measure to benefit athletes.
“We are very thankful for being able to be compensated for all the work that we do,” she said.
The high-profile issue united Republican and Democratic lawmakers as well as rival schools in a state with nationally renowned college sports programs with legions of fans.
The bill-signing ceremony at Kentucky's Capitol featured a cross-section of college coaches and administrators — including University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari and University of Louisville women’s basketball coach Jeff Walz.
Calipari said the Kentucky measure protects both athletes and their schools while providing needed flexibility, saying NIL-related issues are "moving fast.”
“I believe it’s model legislation that will be looked at now to say ‘Well, we can do this,’" he said.
Lawmakers in statehouses across the country are wrangling with the high-stakes issue, as millions of dollars pour into endorsements for college athletes.
In Kentucky, college athletes have been able to make money off their name, image and likeness since last summer, when Beshear signed an executive order. His action was seen as a short-term response, resulting in the bill that sailed through the legislature with bipartisan support.
The result will be that college athletes in Kentucky are “fairly compensated for the use of their name, image and likeness,” the Democratic governor said at the bill signing Wednesday.
“For decades, student-athletes — unlike their peers — were barred from pursuing compensation associated with skills and talents," Beshear said. "And unlike most of their non-athlete peers, student-athletes are the main attraction of what is a multi-billion-dollar industry in this country.”
Walz stressed that student-athletes not only will benefit from NIL opportunities, but can use their notoriety to help others in their communities.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for our student-athletes to finally be able to make a little money off their name, their image," he said. "But it’s also an opportunity for them to give back.”
Morehead State University President Jay Morgan said the bill presents opportunities for student-athletes on campuses across the state. For university administrators, the bill sets “guardrails that all of us can utilize” in dealing with the ever-evolving world of college athletics, he said.
Under the measure, athletes won't be allowed to promote illegal products and can't promote anything having to do with sports betting. University governing boards can adopt policies governing the NIL agreements of their school’s athletes. But those regulations would have to be reasonable and couldn't put an undue burden on the ability of student-athletes to earn NIL money.
The bill's lead sponsors were Republican Sen. Max Wise and Democratic Sen. Morgan McGarvey. Wise predicted the NIL issue could resurface as soon as next year and could result in “some tweaks” to the new law in response to the changing landscape nationally.