Education

Education panel endorses bill allowing Maine college athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness

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The Maine Legislature will vote on a bill this session intended to protect the rights of student-athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness (NIL) after the measure received an affirmative vote from the Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs on February 1.

The committee passed an amended version of LD 1893 by a vote of 7-4. 

The bill, if passed by the legislature, would prohibit colleges and universities in the state from preventing student-athletes from entering into contracts and receiving compensation from the use of their NIL. It would also prohibit colleges and universities from disqualifying a student-athlete from receiving grants or scholarships because he or she is earning compensation for the use of their NIL, or has obtained professional representation to negotiate use of their NIL.

Additionally, the bill would allow student-athletes to receive payment for the sale of their autograph. It would further bar athletic associations, conferences, or other groups “with authority over intercollegiate athletics” from preventing Maine’s post-secondary academic institutions from participating in intercollegiate athletics because of compensation a student-athlete is receiving from their NIL.

The committee adopted an amendment that altered some of the bill’s original language. References to compensation earned from monetizing a student’s NIL affecting scholarships, grants and other forms of financial assistance, which had drawn concern from the University of Maine System, were removed. The amended language prohibits colleges and universities from disqualifying a student from receiving a full, athletic-based scholarship because of compensation received from the use of their NIL.

Language stipulating that a student-athlete cannot be considered an employee of a college or university because of their participation in a sports program was removed from the bill in the amendment. The amendment also contains a new provision stating nothing can be construed to prevent colleges from adopting their own policies governing how students can monetize their NIL.

The bill follows a June 2021 ruling from the Supreme Court that struck down the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) rules barring student-athletes from receiving compensation for the use of their NIL. In a unanimous decision authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch, the court ruled that the restrictions the NCAA placed on education-related benefits violated antitrust law.

LD 1893 was sponsored by Sen. Louis Luchini (D-Hancock). Luchini has since resigned from the legislature to take a job in the Small Business Administration. Sen. Michael Brennan (D-Portland), who is co-sponsoring LD 1893, presented the bill to the committee in Luchini’s stead. He noted that Luchini had reviewed the amended language of the bill and approved it.

At the request of committee members, Samantha Warren, the University of Maine System’s Director of Government and Community Relations, who was involved in drafting the amendment’s language, and Ken Ralph, athletic director for the University of Maine, were both present during the work session.

Ralph offered testimony neither for nor against LD 1893 at the bill’s January 25 public hearing. Ralph states his preference was that an NIL law be enacted at the federal level “so it is equally applied in all states and does not create confusion for student-athletes as they compete across the country.”

Ralph’s testimony also raised several technical concerns the university had with the bill’s original language, including the ability of colleges to set their own policies governing how students can use their NIL.

“For example, UMaine and other UMS universities feel strongly our students should not be able to use their NIL to promote products or activities that are illegal, or that leverage trademarked or copyrighted university logos. This is reflected in our own NIL policy,” Ralph said. 

Language in the amendment adopted by the committee addressed this issue.

Despite the changes, Ralph still said his personal feeling is that it would be best for the legislature not to pass any legislation. He said this would give student-athletes the greatest flexibility for the future.

Warren also said that she doesn’t believe the law is necessary given current policies and practices, but understood why the legislature would want to protect the ability of student-athletes to profit from their NIL. Warren said she was “completely comfortable” with the amended language.

Following the input from the university’s representative, Sen. David Woodsome (R-York) and Rep. Paul Stearns (R-Guilford) both questioned the need for the bill and expressed their intent to oppose moving it forward.

Brennan answered their concerns by stating he thought it was important to protect students’ interests over time. Brennan said that while he respects the policy UMaine currently has in place to protect its student-athletes, this could change with a new administration. Brennan called the bill’s proposals “modest” and noted the bill not only protects students, but also protects UMaine from retaliatory action the NCAA might take.

Currently, 28 states have passed legislation allowing student-athletes to profit from their NIL.

About Katherine Revello

Katherine Revello is a reporter for The Maine Wire. She has degrees in journalism and political science from the University of Maine. Her writing has appeared in Reason, The Washington Examiner, and various other publications. Got news tips? Contact Katherine at krevello@mainepolicy.org.

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