In a state that places a high value on college sports, a Kentucky lawmaker has drafted a bill that would allow student-athletes to profit from their names, images and likenesses.
State Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, told The Courier Journal he modeled his bill after the Fair Pay to Play Act signed into law on Monday in California, which challenges the NCAA's amateur status rules.
"When you see a place like California and all of its universities doing something like this, we want to make sure that Kentucky is also positioned on the forefront of being fair to its college athletes and also building competitive sports teams," he said, adding that he has been working on the draft bill since early August.
The bill signed into law by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday will go into effect in 2023, making it illegal for postsecondary institutions in the state to prevent an athlete from earning compensation by selling the rights to their name, image or likeness to a third party. Athletes also will be allowed to hire licensed agents as their representatives.
States such as Florida and South Carolina are considering similar legislation.
The current rules of the NCAA do not allow athletes to hire agents or profit from their status, and the organization strongly urged California legislators not to pass the bill. NCAA President Mark Emmert recently called the legislation -- and its challenge to the organization's amateur status rules -- an "existential threat" to collegiate sports.
Much like the sponsors of the bill in California -- and the many athletes such as LeBron James who have cheered its passage -- McGarvey says the legislation is primarily about treating athletes with fairness.
"The bottom line is, we know that something has to change," McGarvey said. "We know that college sports is making billions of dollars and the players aren't even allowed to benefit from it after they graduated by having their name as part of a video game. That seems like a really unfair system."
The current draft of McGarvey's Fair Pay to Play bill closely models California's, prohibiting organizations like the NCAA from penalizing student athletes for receiving outside compensation and prohibiting colleges from revoking a student's scholarship if he or she receives such compensation.
McGarvey is holding off for now on prefiling his bill for next year's session of the Kentucky General Assembly, as there is still a great deal of uncertainty surrounding how the NCAA will react to states passing similar laws.
In response to the California law, the NCAA issued a statement suggesting the organization will "move forward with ongoing efforts to make adjustments" to its rules on usage of athletes' names, images and likenesses "that are both realistic in modern society and tied to higher education."
"As more states consider their own specific legislation related to this topic, it is clear that a patchwork of different laws from different states will make unattainable the goal of providing a fair and level playing field for 1,100 campuses and nearly half a million student-athletes nationwide," the NCAA said in its statement.
According to a USA TODAY database tracking the finances of NCAA athletics programs, both the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville ranked in the top 20 nationally in revenue for the 2017-2018 year, each topping $134 million.
According to a Forbes ranking, the U of L and UK basketball programs are the first- and second-most profitable in the country, averaging $30.4 million and $22.9 million of annual profit over the past three years, respectively.
UK men's basketball coach John Calipari, who often criticizes the NCAA's amateur rules, told reporters at a media day on Tuesday that he had not had time to review California's new law yet.
Noting the importance of college basketball to the state, McGarvey said it is vital that Kentucky's laws move with the times and protect its collegiate athletes.
"We are the epicenter of college basketball," McGarvey said. "We want to make sure that those athletes are getting treated fairly and that we continue to have that for years to come."