Gov. Tom Wolf and Pennsylvania lawmakers joined Penn State student-athletes and administrators on Monday at Beaver Stadium to celebrate Pennsylvania’s new name, image and likeness legislation.
Signed into law on June 30, Act 26 amended the Public School Code to allow athletes at any Pennsylvania college to make money from endorsements or business ventures without impacting eligibility, as well as being able to hire agents. A day later, the NCAA implemented overarching legislation allowing athletes to make money from NIL activities consistent with state law.
Together, the legislation and policy change mean new opportunities for student-athletes. Wolf called it a “new chapter” for collegiate athletics.
“For too long college athletes were barred from earning compensation for endorsements like this, forced to allow other entities to profit off of their successes in order to continue playing the sports they love,” Wolf said. “Pennsylvania’s college athletes have earned their fame through hard work and through dedication. Now our athletes will no longer be forced to choose between receiving fair compensation and continuing to play. They’re going to be able to do both.”
Athletes cannot be paid to play, but with more than two dozen states enacting NIL legislation, Wolf and Penn State President Eric Barron said Act 26 ensures Pennsylvania collegiate athletic programs are on an even footing.
“It will… help ensure that Pennsylvania colleges and universities remain competitive and attractive,” Wolf said. “It will give top athletes a guarantee that they will be treated fairly here in Pennsylvania by ensuring athletes in other states aren’t receiving benefits that Pennsylvania student-athletes might miss out on.”
Barron called it a “giant stride forward” and said opening up NIL opportunities is the right thing to do for athletes and schools.
“After years of discussion and debates, it’s clear that NIL rights are necessary, reasonable and fair for all involved parties,” he said. “NIL will protect that integrity of the game and provide our student-athletes with much-deserved opportunities to financially benefit from their hard work. In other words this is a win-win.”
The legislation came together fairly quickly, state Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte said. As it became clear the NCAA would adopt the policy change, Penn State governmental affairs staff were among those who reached out about NIL legislation for Pennsylvania. Corman said he even got a phone call from Penn State football coach James Franklin to advocate for it.
Given that the General Assembly is busy with the state budget in June, Corman was unsure such a bill could get done soon, but he found bipartisan work was already underway by Republican state Sen. Scott Martin and Democratic state Sen. Anthony Williams.
Corman said the law provides fairness for student-athletes.
“We call them student-athletes,” Corman said. “They should be students like other students and be able to control their likeness, control their name, be able to get some professional advice as they move forward in their career.”
That point was echoed by Lady Lions basketball player Anna Camden, who has a substantial social media presence and who is among a number of Penn State student-athletes to already pursue NIL opportunities by joining Cameo, which allows users to purchase personalized messages from celebrities.
“I want to thank the athletes who came before me and fought for the right to use their name, image and likeness,” Camden said. “It is because of all of these people that we are fortunate enough to stand here today in a new era of college sports.”
Added Penn State football wide receiver Jahan Dotson, “This is a huge opportunity for myself and all the student-athletes here at Penn State as we work to get a head start on life not only in athletics but in our academic careers.”
The law comes with some limitations. Athletes can’t use intellectual property of their schools, such as logos, for their NIL activities. They cannot sign deals with companies that promote tobacco, adult entertainment, gambling and other “vices.”
Colleges also can’t represent athletes for business or brand deals and can prevent NIL activities that “conflict with institutional values.”
Schools like Penn State have embraced the new opportunity for athletes, establishing programs to provide a range of advice on branding, business and finances.
“When we talk about the development of our student-athletes, we should celebrate this as a success because we’re teaching them not only entrepreneurial skills but how to take care of their careers right here where they’re supposed to take care of them: in college,” said state Rep. Ed Gainey, who is the presumptive next mayor of Pittsburgh.
Barron said economic development, entrepreneurship and financial literacy have been priorities for Penn State since the start of the presidency, as the university has developed programs that have been utilized by thousands of students.
Those and additional resources are contributing to Penn State Athletics’ “STATEment” program, which helps athletes understand NIL rules and learn about brand-building, social media responsibility, financial literacy, media training and other issues.
Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Sandy Barbour said Invent Penn State, the Sokolov-Miller Family Financial and Life Skills Center, student legal services, the Penn State Small Business Development Center and the university’s trademark and licensing office are among the existing resources available for the program. It also has new resources put together by the athletic department, including partnering with third-party influencer and brand companies.
“Not unlike the entirety of their Penn State experience… the statement program is designed to prepare them with preparation for their lifetime… preparing them for a lifetime of impact, as we like to say,” Barbour said.
“We are excited to be at and in this moment and looking forward to seeing what our student-athletes will do with this opportunity.”