College players advocacy group raises concerns over Ohio's name, image, likeness legislation proposal

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra
National Collegiate Athletic Association Student-Athlete Advisory Committee Chair Kendall Spencer, right, and National College Players Association Executive Director Ramogi Huma, center, listen as NCAA President Mark Emmert, left, testifies during a Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing on Feb. 11, 2020, on intercollegiate athlete compensation.

Ramogi Huma, the executive director of the National College Players Association, a players’ rights advocacy group, raised concerns that Ohio’s proposed name, image and likeness legislation could allow schools to limit endorsement opportunities for athletes.

The bill, which was introduced Monday by Niraj Antani, a Republican state senator from Miamisburg, prohibits athletes from signing deals that conflict with agreements held by their schools.

Other state NIL laws include similar provisions, but they largely restrict conflicting sponsorship during competition, practices and other official team activities. The intent of such restrictions is to avoid instances in which a quarterback at a Nike-sponsored school wears Adidas apparel during nationally televised games.

Ohio’s proposal prevents players from endorsements that conflict with a school's sponsorship during team activities or “any other time,” as outlined in the text of the bill.

“When it says, ‘any other time,’ that means 24/7,” Huma said.

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Schools such as Ohio State would be given a period of 15 days to review athletes’ deals for potential conflicts, then allow them to revise the agreements if any issues arise. The revised contract remains subject to review.

“Why should Ohio State have any discretion on how one of its players uses their name, image and likeness on their own time?” Huma said.

Antani, who consulted with Buckeyes athletic director Gene Smith and other college administrators in the state before putting forth a bill, said Tuesday that the provision was included in order to allow schools to remain compliant with their preexisting sponsorship deals.

“Their current contracts have sort of exclusivity agreements,” Antani said, “and so we want to ensure that we're not causing our state institutions of higher education into a place where they're going to get sued over a contract dispute, which would then frankly cost taxpayer dollars.”

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A former linebacker at UCLA who has long advocated for NIL reform since founding the NCPA in the late 1990s, Huma hopes Ohio lawmakers will consider amending the bill’s provision, calling it some of the “most restrictive” language that he had seen among the varying state proposals.  

Since universities and their athletic departments have sponsorships with companies in a wide range of industries, Huma expects athletes’ deals will often come into conflict with those of the schools.   

“We've looked at sponsorships throughout NCAA sports, and there's hardly an industry out there where there’s not some kind of a sponsorship,” Huma said. “It goes from financial institutions to automobile to insurance to apparel to beverage to grocery store to hardware store — you name it. What's left for the players if a school wants to continue to monopolize their commercial NIL value?”

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While the provision could remove some potential endorsement options for athletes, Antani said he expects they would be able to reach agreements with companies that already sponsor their schools.

He raised the possibility that Ohio State basketball and football players could all make deals with Coca-Cola and Nike, two of the school’s most prominent sponsors.  

“It’s not really restricting them from opportunities, maybe restricting them from choice a little bit,” Antani said, “but I think that getting the schools comfortable with this was important.”

Antani is hopeful the legislation can be passed by the Ohio Legislature by its effective date of July 1, which coincides with when NIL laws in six other states are scheduled to take effect. Sixteen states have passed legislation. 

The NCAA Division I council is also expected to vote on its proposed legislation at a meeting June 22-23.

Beyond allowing schools to review for potential conflicts, Ohio’s proposed law would not give them veto power over deals.

The bill does prohibit deals that involve endorsing marijuana, alcohol, tobacco, adult entertainment or casinos.

Smith, the Buckeyes’ athletic director, said the school does plan to give athletes guidance related to NIL agreements.

"We'll just help them understand the deal and how it's being set up," he said. "And then we'll also talk to them about how does that affect your brand with that particular partner and other opportunities that you have ahead of you."

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman