New Jersey should repeal law allowing college athletes to profit from names and likenesses, top lawmaker says

On Wednesday, a senior lawmaker called on New Jersey to repeal a law that allows the state’s college athletes to profit from their names and likenesses — not because he disagrees with the concept, but because the law is technically a few years old. And it will not come into effect within schools, he said, and as other countries develop stronger policies, there needs to be immediate oversight on the matter.

D-Essex state Sen. Richard Cody said the New Jersey Fair Play Act, signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy in 2020, is well-intentioned but outdated.

New Jersey was one of the first states to enact a law that bypassed the NCAA’s longstanding policy of barring all college athletes from trading in their name, image, and likeness (or NIL) for endorsements, social media, and autograph shows, among other things Profit from the event. But the Garden State’s laws won’t apply until the fifth school year after the governor’s signature, which is 2025.

The NCAA finally lifted the injunction last year after a court ruling. This means that athletes in New Jersey can make money from NIL transactions even without existing state laws.

Still, critics say New Jersey is hampered by its long runaway laws, as colleges and athletes will now have to rely on stricter NCAA policies, while other states have created their own laws with looser rules.

Without better guidance from the NCAA and no state law in effect, New Jersey schools have been confused and uncertain about what is allowed, Codey said, and states with more lenient restrictions could lure top athletes away.

Codey, who voted for the original law, told NJ Advance Media that he would introduce a new bill that would “offset” the current law and “make sense for it,” allowing New Jersey universities to immediately set their own NIL policies.

“These agencies can’t wait,” said Cody, the former governor and longest-serving lawmaker in New Jersey’s history. “They have to address this head-on. We need to act before institutions in other states raid New Jersey rosters.”

“When this happens – and it will happen – it will be because our law tries to provide guidance, but it just puts a pair of handcuffs on athletes, coaches and administrators,” he added.

State Sen. Joseph Lagana (D-Bergen), the lead sponsor of the original law, said in a statement to NJ Advance Media that he does not support repealing the statute but is working to strengthen it.

“My priority right now is as always, ensuring college athletes have the financial opportunity they deserve,” Lagana said. “This is why I have no intention of repealing the Fair Competition Act. However, as other states join us to address this issue, I have been actively working with our local stakeholders to make our laws as strong as possible to ensure we of students control their likeness, and our varsity institution has every advantage in keeping New Jersey’s amazing athletes in the state.”

To repeal a New Jersey law, both chambers of the state legislature — the Senate and Congress — must vote for it, and Murphy must then sign it into law. The same goes for any proposal to strengthen the law.

It’s the latest chapter in a long and complicated struggle for college athletes to make money through names and likenesses.

The NCAA has banned student-athletes from profiting for years, and proponents of the rule say it aims to protect the integrity and amateur aspects of college sports.

New Jersey and other states have expressed the need to pass their own NIL laws because while the NCAA and its sponsors have long reap the financial benefits of student-athletes’ achievements, athletes should have the right to do so.

Without the five-year waiting period, the New Jersey law risks not being passed, many people familiar with the issue said. The goal is to see what happens during this time.

In 2021, a year after Murphy signed the New Jersey law, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling barring the NCAA from limiting athletes’ compensation. Shortly thereafter, the NCAA announced the lifting of the ban.

Lagana told NJ Advance Media that he was trying to push the start date back to July last year, saying “we just couldn’t wait.” But that never happened.

Other states — including Illinois, Maryland and Nebraska — have repealed their NIL laws and passed new ones that allow universities to set their own policies, Codey said.

“This issue is in the hands of institutions,” Cody said. “They know the environment in which they compete. Let’s face it, the Rutgers football team and the Rutgers and Seton Hall basketball teams competing at the highest level of the NCAA are very different from colleges and universities.”

Codey said he was also concerned about players accepting unauthorized NIL payments.

“We all know that college sports are not all smooth sailing,” he said. “It makes it the Wild West.”

Codey’s comments come as the NCAA released guidance Wednesday that allows schools to work more directly with the NIL collective.

Under the changes, athletic departments can help with collective fundraising, including stewards who appear at events. They can also provide donor information and hold meetings between collectives and boosters.

However, schools cannot negotiate on behalf of NIL entities or student-athletes to secure these specific opportunities. Nor can they provide athletes with free services or equipment to support these transactions unless they are available to regular students.

The NCAA lobbied Congress to pass federal legislation that would provide a set of rules for all 50 states. But that hasn’t happened yet.

NJ Advance Media Sports Columnist Steve Politi contributed to this report.

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Brent Johnson reachable [email protected]. follow him @johnsb01.

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