Tennessee lawmakers this week gave final approval to a bill that will allow athletes at the University of Tennessee, the University of Memphis, Vanderbilt University and other colleges in the state to earn money off their name, image and likeness.
The legislation is part of a nationwide trend, and Tennessee’s will go into effect at the start of 2022. A representative for Gov. Bill Lee said he plans to sign the bill, which the Senate passed on Thursday and the House passed earlier this week.
The NCAA is currently considering a nationwide name, image and likeness framework, but other states have already instituted their own laws, some of which go into effect in the coming months. In addition to arguing that college athletes deserve to be able to make money from endorsements, supporters in the legislature said Tennessee colleges risked falling behind in recruiting if other states allowed athletes to earn money while Tennessee did not.
The legislation requires Tennessee colleges to conduct a financial literacy workshop for athletes new to their respective schools, with the students prohibited from endorsing gambling, alcohol, tobacco or adult entertainment products. Additionally, the legislation allows schools to prohibit the use of logos and other university trademarks in the endorsements.
Tony Harris, a former McDonald’s All American who started all but two games for the University of Tennessee men’s basketball team between 1997 and 2001, called the legislation “monumental.”
“I was broke,” said Harris, who has worked with longtime sponsor Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis) to promote name, image and likeness legislation. “There were times when it was hard for me to make ends meet.”
Harris said he would have used his status as a star in Knoxville to earn money from endorsements. Now, college athletes will also be able to leverage their social media followings to make money. Rapper Master P recently said that his son, Tennessee State University basketball commit Hercy Miller, already has a multimillion-dollar endorsement deal ready to go if the legislation goes into effect.
“This system needed a facelift, and it had to cater to these young student athletes,” Harris said. “It’s only right.”
New University of Tennessee Athletics Director Danny White recently told Rivals.com that NIL was his “biggest concern” in the next two to five years.
“If we allow it to become minor league sports, I think it’s going to be a shame,” White said. “It will have such a negative impact in the long run over college athletics. We can’t allow that to happen. We have to be careful as we roll this out. … It’s not going to be as successful if we allow it to go too far.”