Education Kentucky Politics

Kentucky college athletes would be able to profit off their name, image and likeness under a bill that advanced in the state legislature on Wednesday.

Though student athletes in Kentucky have already been able to profit off NIL ventures like endorsements or signing autographs since last summer, their rights would be enshrined in state law under Senate Bill 6.

Gov. Andy Beshear was the first governor in the U.S. to institute such a policy in July 2021, but the legislation would go further to establish a framework for colleges and universities.

The proposal would allow student athletes to make deals like endorsements or getting paid to sign autographs, but it prevents them from promoting things like sports betting, adult entertainment or controlled substances. It also requires intuitions to provide financial literacy and life skills education for student athletes.

At the same time, colleges and universities can establish their own policies and programs to provide resources and support for student athletes and review potential contracts.

University of Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said the bill protects students and athletic staff while offering flexibility to colleges and universities to set up guidance.

“The goal for us is that even as rules change and the landscape in which our students play and work continues to evolve,” Barnhart said. “UK’s student athletes will be prepared to maximize opportunities while also continuing their educations and benefitting from all the things that come with being on a college campus.”

The legislation is bipartisan and passed unanimously out of the Senate Education Committee committee on Wednesday and now moves to the Senate floor.

Democratic Sen. Morgan McGarvey of Louisville said the measure creates a level playing field for student athletes, allowing them to profit off their skills as other students do.   

“If you’re an artist you can sell your paintings, if you’re a journalism student you can go work somewhere and do freelance writing, you can work somewhere and promote yourself. Our student athletes haven’t had this opportunity,” McGarvey said.

The bill bans universities from using university name, image and likeness policies to recruit athletes. It also protects coaching staff from being held liable for actions that might affect a student athlete’s ability to profit from their NIL ventures.

University of Kentucky Men’s Basketball Coach John Calipari testified in support of the bill, saying it would help the school continue to be the “gold standard” of college basketball programs.

“I’m confident, with your interest, as well as mine, we will share in creating the best opportunities for players,” Calipari said.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.