RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia’s new name, image and likeness rules for college athletes are on display with March Madness underway.
Last summer, a U.S. Supreme Court decision triggered a long-contested NCAA rules change. Nationwide, it paved the way for student-athlete sponsorships and endorsements that were previously banned by the league.
In the absence of federal standards, Virginia lawmakers are taking further steps to regulate largely uncharted territory after beginning the process last year.
Meanwhile, some student-athletes are already benefiting.
Kihei Clark, a senior point guard for the University of Virginia’s men’s basketball team, booked his first commercial because of the changes.
“It brings different opportunities for different players to be able to support their family or do a little extra stuff for themselves before going professional and I think that’s the route for them to be able to stay in college a couple extra years and maybe get their degree,” Clark said.
With all eyes on college basketball this month, Clark was featured in an ad for The Good Feet Store in Richmond.
Jonathan Cotten, who owns the store, said the NIL changes presented a great opportunity for local businesses that often can’t afford to hire professional athletes for advertisements. Plus, he said the policy allows players like Clark to get real-world experience and become role models in their community. He said the commercial is already bringing in new customers.
“It gets people’s attention when they see a younger person that’s very active athletically. It just says, hey, maybe this can work for me too,” Cotten said.
Clark came to Virginia from his home state of California, which was the first state to pass a law prohibiting college athletes from being punished for profiting from their NIL in 2019.
As other states followed suit, then-Governor Ralph Northam came under pressure to take similar steps in Virginia over concerns that the state’s colleges would be at a competitive disadvantage during the recruiting process.
“So I was kind of anxious and hoping for the best and hoping we were able to do it and when I eventually found out that we could I was excited,” Clark said.
After the NCAA changed its stance, the Virginia General Assembly fast-tracked temporary regulations through the budget last summer.
Legislation that passed in the 2022 session puts more permanent guardrails on NIL and creates protections for student-athletes hoping to profit, according to bill sponsor Senator Jeremy McPike (D-Prince William).
McPike said Virginia’s law is more restrictive than some states. For example, it bans sponsorships related to alcohol, cannabis and gambling.
“Some states repealed everything. It’s the wild west. So we were a little uncomfortable with that but we also wanted to make sure we articulated some of the student’s rights in the process as well,” McPike said.
While sponsorships may impact income eligibility for certain tuition assistance, McPike said the bill ensures players don’t lose their athletic scholarships because of a deal.
Additionally, McPike said the bill creates rights of action for student-athletes if a contract is breached. He said it also prohibits universities from writing contracts that would exclude students from having a sponsorship deal.
Under the bill, McPike said students still need permission to use a university’s logo.
If Gov. Glenn Youngkin signs it into law, it will take effect July 1 and replace the temporary regulations.