By Dana Brandt, The Daily Cardinal
A bipartisan group of lawmakers are working on a bill that would allow college athletes to profit from their status and hire outside agents beginning in 2023.
The bill follows the passage of California’s “Fair Pay to Play” law last month, and they share many similarities. Wisconsin’s bill would also prevent state universities from revoking athletes' scholarships or eligibility for accepting money and ban the NCAA from disciplining schools that allow the policy, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
Notable critics of California’s new law include UW-Madison Athletic Director Barry Alvarez, who said in September he wouldn’t schedule any games with California teams following its passage.
“If they have different rules than we do, and all of a sudden, they’re not amateurs,” Alvarez said.
However, bill author Rep. Dave Murphy, R-Greenville, said in a Tuesday letter to Alvarez that Wisconsin “cannot afford to sit this discussion out.”
“Wisconsin needs to stand up and be a leader on the right way to move forward on this issue,” wrote Murphy, who is also chairman of the Assembly Colleges and Universities Committee.
While the bill has yet to be released, Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, and Rep. Ron Tusler, R-Harrison, will likely sign on as co-authors, according to the State Journal. Rep. David Crowley, D-Milwaukee, has also been working with Murphy on the bill, but he has not confirmed support for it.
“Wisconsin’s motto is ‘Forward,’ not ‘Wait and See,’” Shankland told the State Journal. “We don’t want to wait and see what the NCAA says. We want students to understand we support them and have a conversation about what fairness, equity and opportunity looks like not only in Wisconsin, but across the country.”
The NCAA unanimously voted Tuesday to begin the process to update its policies allowing student-athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness by January 2021. However, the guidelines stipulate clarifying “the distinction between collegiate and professional opportunities.”
UW Athletics issued a statement Tuesday in response to the NCAA’s vote, saying, “Wisconsin supports the efforts of the NCAA and the Big Ten Conference to enhance support of student-athletes that is tethered to education. We look forward to working with the Conference and the NCAA as appropriate rules for the use of name, image and likeness are developed.”
Lawmakers in several states have introduced similar legislation, but athletes in Wisconsin could have more to gain than most. UW-Madison was the 11th most profitable NCAA sports program in 2017-’18, raking in nearly $152 million.
However, Executive Director of the National Sports Law Institute at Marquette University Matt Mitten said potential rule changes could lead to a system where student-athletes pick colleges based on money offered.
“Now what's being introduced into the mix is, well, what can I expect to receive in terms of endorsement income and opportunities at a particular school?” Mitten told Wisconsin Public Radio.
Differences between Wisconsin’s bill and California’s law include first-year and transfer students not being covered in Wisconsin’s version, which may allow the NCAA to ban new students from profiting of their position. The distinction is an attempt to limit money being a deciding factor during recruitment, the State Journal reported.
Wisconsin’s bill also bans the NCAA or universities from creating agreements or contracts between student-athletes and third parties. The bill also requires student-athletes to notify schools and athletic associations before entering into a contract and prevents them from entering agreements that harm the school’s reputation or conflict with a pre-existing deals, such as UW-Madison’s partnership with Under Armor.
The bill will require passage from the Republican-controlled Assembly and Senate and approval from Gov. Tony Evers, a democrat. If the bill becomes law, it would take effect mid-2023, six months after California’s law does the same.