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College Athlete Endorsement Bill Clears Illinois House

Rep. Chris Welch during debate on the floor of the Illinois House
Brian Mackey
NPR Illinois
State Rep. Chris Welch, a Democrat from Hillside and former Northwestern baseball player, argues letting college athletes make money off their image is a matter of fairness.

A proposal that would let college athletes make money from endorsements cleared a major hurdle Wednesday in the Illinois General Assembly.

The legislation would let students monetize their name, image or likeness — something that under preset NCAA rules would jeopardize their eligibility and thus their scholarships.

As Illinois lawmakers have been considering the proposal, the NCAA board of governors on Tuesday said it was getting behind the concept, though with a big caveat about "maintaining the collegiate model.”

State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, a Democrat from Hillside who is sponsoring the legislation, says the NCAA’s turnabout is not good enough.

“The NCAA basically did a PR stunt. It completely lacked substance,” Welch told his colleagues during debate. “Make no mistake about it: We’ve got their attention.”

Welch, who played college baseball at Northwestern, says his legislation is about fairness.

“The NCAA, colleges, coaches, athletic directors, and commissioners have made billions — billions — and they’ve done it off the names, likenesses and images of student athletes, who make nothing,” he said.

The legislation, House Bill 3904, passed the House on a bipartisan vote of 86-25.

Rep. Anthony DeLuca debates on the floor of the Illinois House
Credit Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois
NPR Illinois
Rep. Anthony DeLuca, a Democrat from Chicago Heights, argues allowing players to make money off college athletics would be the end of the idea of amateur athletics.

Among the opponents were Rep. Anthony DeLuca, a Democrat from Chicago Heights: “This is a sad day for amateur athletics. A very sad day. This is driving a knife, a dagger, right through the heart of amateur athletics.”

The legislation still has to get through the Illinois Senate, but if it does, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said he’ll sign it into law.

Illinois would be the second state to allow college athletes to control their name, image and likeness — following a similar law signed last month in California.

Like California, the Illinois rules wouldn’t take effect until the year 2023.

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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