College athletes in Illinois can hire agents, be paid for endorsements under measure signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a measure into law Tuesday that allows college athletes to sign endorsement deals, making Illinois the latest of nearly two dozen states to enact policies allowing student-athletes to profit off the use of their names and likenesses.

The signing comes a day before a NCAA vote on a proposal that would institute similar rules for schools nationwide. It also comes less than two weeks after a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling struck down an NCAA rule prohibiting schools from offering athletes education-related benefits.

There’s been a growing push for high-level college athletes to be able to earn some share of the profit from a multibillion-dollar industry, including an unsuccessful attempt by Northwestern University football players to unionize in 2014. The NCAA and others have fought such attempts, contending they undermine the spirit of amateur sports.

“The benefits of this law don’t stop with kids bound for the NFL or the NBA,” Pritzker said before signing the measure into law at the State Farm Center on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Any student-athlete can partner with businesses in their college towns as well as brands big and small to see a financial benefit from the hours they pour into their craft.”

The bill, passed by the General Assembly this spring, was sponsored by two former Division I football players: state Rep. Kam Buckner, a Chicago Democrat who played at Illinois, and state Sen. Napoleon Harris, a Democrat from south suburban Harvey who played linebacker at Northwestern and for seven seasons in the NFL.

“What we are signaling here is that we cannot continue to economically suppress these young people while they infuse tremendous amounts of money into our economies,” Buckner said, adding that the change will benefit not just the star quarterback or point guard.

“This gives the women’s tennis player an opportunity to be compensated for teaching lessons back in her hometown during summer breaks,” he said. “This creates an apparatus for the women’s softball player to lend her image to the local pizzeria for fair market value.”

Eva Rubin, a senior on the Illinois basketball team, said the new law would allow her to use her own name and image to support causes she cares about. As a Type 1 diabetic, that includes raising money for organizations like the American Diabetes Association, she said.

“I can only imagine the opportunities that I’ll be able to create for myself and build for myself and ways will help me give back to my community,” said Rubin, from Flossmoor.

Harris, who wasn’t at the bill signing, previously said it was time for the athletes, who “are the ones that are filling the stands,” to be able to make money off their own names and likenesses.

“I think the colleges are now seeing the light of day and understanding the difference between student-athletes being able to use their own name and image versus being employees. They’re not considered employees, and I think that’s the difference,” Harris said in May when lawmakers were considering the proposal.

U. of I. Athletic Director Josh Whitman, who supported the measure, acknowledged the shifting dynamics.

“This is one of those days that allows us to begin to usher in a new era of college athletics,” Whitman said. “Truly, (name, image and likeness) legislation represents the most dramatic, meaningful change to come to the collegiate model since the adoption of athletic scholarships back in the early 1950s.”

Whitman and other athletic directors said the new law, which takes effect Thursday, could prove to be a useful tool in recruiting athletes, and they’re setting up programs to help students navigate the system.

DePaul University Athletic Director DeWayne Peevy said the new law will let the school’s athletes “capitalize off their name, image and likeness in the third-largest media market in the country.” To support them, the school is launching a “comprehensive entrepreneurial and brand development program,” Peevy said.

Under the Illinois law, student-athletes at both public and private universities will be allowed to hire an agents to represent them in endorsement deal. Schools can set “reasonable limitations” on when athletes can participate in the newly allowed activities and whether the school’s logos, uniforms or name can be used.

Athletes also will be required to report their endorsement deals and other activities to their schools. They will be prohibited from promoting a variety of products and services, including sports betting or other forms of gambling, marijuana, alcohol, tobacco, vaping products, adult entertainment or anything else “that is reasonably considered to be inconsistent with the values or mission of” their school or “that negatively impacts or reflects adversely on” the school or its athletics program.

While school officials described the change as a recruiting tool, the law does attempt to establish some guardrails. Boosters or other third parties are prohibited from using the promise of endorsement deals to recruit athletes to a school.

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California passed the first such law in 2019, with the policy set to take effect in 2023. Since then, 18 others states have enacted similar policies, with laws also taking effect Thursday in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico and Texas. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear have issued executive orders with similar provisions that also take effect Thursday.

New Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, a Hillside Democrat who played baseball at Northwestern, introduced a similar proposal in 2019 that was approved in the House but never cleared the Senate.

Wednesday’s vote by the NCAA Division I board of directors follows a recommendation from a panel composed of athletic directors and other officials to suspend part of the rules prohibiting athletes from receiving compensation. The Division II and III governing committees will take similar votes.

The proposal would suspend the current rules prohibiting athletes from being paid for the use of their name, image or likeness until the NCAA adopts a permanent policy or Congress approves a federal law. Schools still would be prohibited from directly paying athletes for participating in their sports.

If approved, the proposal would permit activities similar to those covered in the new Illinois law for athletes nationwide, regardless of whether their state has approved a similar policy. Athletes in the States that have passed laws would be governed by those rules.