Arkansas lawmakers have passed legislation that would allow Arkansas student-athletes to receive compensation for the commercial use of their publicity rights.
Both the Arkansas House of Representatives and the Arkansas Senate voted to pass House Bill 1671, which will establish the Arkansas Student-Athlete Publicity Rights Act. Sen. Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs) served as the lead sponsor with Rep. Matthew Shepherd (R-El Dorado) as a primary sponsor.
The House passed the bill by an overwhelming majority on March 29 with 97 ‘yea’ votes and only Rep. Julie Mayberry (R-Hensley) voting against the bill. The Senate similarly passed the bill with a strong showing with 34 ‘yeas’ and only Sen. Larry Teague (D-Nashville) voting in opposition. The House voted on the bill again on Wednesday, April 14, after the Senate added an amendment to the bill, passing the bill unanimously with five non-voting members.
Under this act, student-athletes will be allowed to enter into contracts to be compensated for the commercial use of publicity rights and any compensation would not be allowed to affect the student athlete’s scholarship eligibility.
Colleges and universities, athletic associations, athletic conferences or other organizations will be prohibited from setting rules, requirements or standards that would prevent student-athletes from receiving compensation for these publicity rights. The bill holds that athletic conferences and organizations cannot penalize students for receiving compensation or prevent colleges/universities from participating in athletics as a result of any student-athlete commercial compensation.
However, student-athletes cannot enter into commercial contracts if it requires them to “endorse, use, solicit, sell, market, advertise, promote, refer to, mention, display or otherwise promote” a company or product during a varsity intercollegiate practice, competition or other activity. The contract cannot also know conflict with any rules, policies or standards the student-athlete’s institution of higher education has. The contract can also not be connected to the student-athlete’s “performance or lack of performance in athletic competition.”
Student-athletes are barred from receiving compensation in connection with specific industries. These include adult entertainment; alcohol products; casinos and gambling businesses; tobacco, marijuana and electronic smoking products; pharmaceuticals, drug paraphernalia, or controlled substances; weapons, including firearms and ammunition; and any products or substances banned by an athletic association or conference.
When entering into a contract for commercial use of publicity rights, student-athletes will be required to disclose the contract to a designated official at their college/university. This disclosure will include the terms and condition of the contract, the parties involved and the compensation amounts.
Arkansas athletics officials have spoken out in favor of the bill, arguing that it would make Arkansas more competitive in recruiting top talent to their programs. University of Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek spoke at a March 24 House Education Committee meeting and told lawmakers that the bill could make a difference in recruitment. He also warned that if other states pass similar legislation and Arkansas does not, it could put the state’s athletics programs at a disadvantage.
“Whether you’re the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville or Arkansas State, we want to put walls around our state and keep the best talent for students and athletes within the confines of our institutions here. And without this opportunity, they may choose to go to an institution in the state of Florida that gives them an opportunity to monetize their name, image and likeness,” Yurachek said, according to a KUAF report.
In the same committee hearing, Yurachek’s counterpart at Arkansas State University, Vice Chancellor of Intercollegiate Athletics Tom Bowen emphasized that integrity was a vital component of the legislation. This bill, he said according to a KAIT8 report, would allow student-athletes to be paid for work they love doing in a safe way. “But this is the right thing to do for student-athletes for the first time in 100 years. To give them the opportunity to have the ability to own their name, image, and likeness. Whatever that means. We can create enough barriers and a big enough fence to keep the darker side of what could be possible out of our business. I promise you that,” he said.
Razorbacks head football coach Sam Pittman also spoke before the committee, adding that he was in favor of student-athlete compensation. While he admitted that the compensation would have a limited impact on students in terms of the number who would likely receive compensation offers, he said it could be an incentive.
The bill has now been enrolled with the General Assembly and it has been transmitted to Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s office.