Virginia colleges ask Northam to end ban on paying student athletes for name, image and likeness

Virginia Politics

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- Virginia’s colleges and universities are urging Gov. Ralph Northam to allow student athletes to profit off of their name, image and likeness, something the NCAA currently bans.

More than a dozen institutions signed a letter asking Northam to make the change through an executive order as a temporary fix. 

The urgency comes after 16 states passed laws permitting student-athletes to use their NIL for commercial purposes, with some taking effect as early as July 1, 2021, according to the letter. 

“Student-athletes are choosing to attend institutions in states other than Virginia because those states have adopted favorable laws,” the letter said. “Unless we act soon and provide Virginia student-athletes the opportunity to benefit from their NIL, Virginia colleges and universities will continue to suffer a significant competitive disadvantage.” 

The letter, first obtained by the Roanoke Times this week, is dated May 19, 2021. The note was a follow-up to an April 22, 2021 meeting with Virginia’s Secretary of Education.

On Wednesday, Northam’s Chief of Staff Clark Mercer said in a phone interview that they were considering the request. Mercer didn’t guarantee that Northam would take action before July 1 but said more information would come out soon. 

“The General Assembly has had the opportunity to act on this previously but they didn’t,” Mercer said. “The legislature needs to provide a long-term fix.”

Virginia colleges are calling for a permanent change in state law too but it’s not clear how quickly that could happen. The next regular session doesn’t start until January 2022.

“We believe this delay will further increase inequities among student-athletes,” the letter said. 

The legislature is expected to convene later this summer for a special session focused on allocating coronavirus relief funds and it’s not clear if there is an appetite to expand the scope.

8News reached out to communications staff for House and Senate leadership in both parties on Wednesday. They either didn’t respond or said they aren’t aware of any legislation in the works to address this issue. 

Prior to 2020, institutions were hopeful that Congress would come up with a national standard but the legislation has not been meaningfully considered. Last year,  the NCAA proposed legislation that would permit student-athletes to earn income from their NIL but it was later tabled. 

If Northam agrees to an executive order, Virginia Union University’s Athletic Director Felicia Johnson says schools would want to keep some guardrails in place. 

For example, the letter says student athletes shouldn’t be paid during team activities to prevent pay-for-play. 

“You won’t see our student athletes getting paid a salary. They are still student athletes. They receive scholarships,” Johnson said. 

While big-time Division One athletes are eager to benefit from endorsements, Johnson said her Division Two athletes would still be impacted.

“Right now, my athletes are unable to market themselves in any way and benefit from being a student athlete. They can’t market themselves on social media, sign autographs at a local restaurant or market any athletic apparel or equipment they may design for themselves,” Johnson said. 

Signatories on the letter include Virginia Commonwealth University, George Mason, James Madison, Old Dominion, Norfolk State, Radford, Richard Bland, University of Virginia, University of Mary Washington, William and Mary, University of Virginia’s College at Wise, Virginia State University, Virginia Military Institute, Virginia Tech and Liberty University, as well as Virginia Community College System and the Council of Independent Colleges in Virginia, which represents various private schools. 

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