Nebraska lawmakers looking to pass Fair Pay to Play act for student athletes


Jack Hoover

The Nebraska State Capital Building, where the Fair Pay to Play act could be signed into law next. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Fall Saturdays have become largely synonymous with college football.

College basketball is given a whole month of the year dedicated purely for containing the insanity of the sport and all that surrounds it.

Here in Omaha, thousands flock to downtown to see a college baseball tournament that is often the sports highlight of the year in the city.

Without a doubt, the institution of collegiate sports is a mainstay in the lives of Americans across the country. But with all the popularity, and indeed money, that college sports receive, there is one question that is often hotly debated. Why is it that those whom this success is built upon – the college athletes themselves – aren’t allowed to see any of this money?

The governing body of collegiate athletics, the NCAA, stands by a strict standard of amateurism for its players, where even the slightest infraction can incur heavy penalties. Some lawmakers though, such as Nebraska State Sen. Megan Hunt, are working to change what they see as an outdated concept.

“The economy of college sports has grown immensely over the last two-and-a-half decades, Hunt said. “Today, it is a billion-dollar industry. I think it has taken some time for our culture to shift and appreciate just how much wealth these athletes are creating and understand that they are making people rich without seeing any of the benefits themselves.”

On Sept. 30, 2019, a significant step toward change was taken as the Fair Pay to Play act was signed into law by the California legislature. The bill allows student athletes at public California universities to profit off of their image and athletic abilities.

Other states are starting to take note of these changes and, thanks to the work of Sen. Hunt, Nebraska could become the second state to pass a Fair Pay to Play Act.

On Jan. 13, Hunt introduced LB 962, or “The Fair Pay to Play Act,” to the Nebraska state legislature. Much like the bill passed in California, LB 962 would prevent institutions such as the NCAA to take action against student athletes who profit off their name or skills. Hunt believes that this bill would have a net positive affect on all college athletes, especially in the parts of their lives that take place off the field.

“With the ability to earn money for their name, image and likeness rights, college athletes can pursue economic opportunities that teach them lifelong lessons about business, entrepreneurship, and their future career choices,” Hunt said.

While the vast majority of collegiate athletes don’t go onto play professionally, (only about 2% do, according to the NCAA), the ability to make a profit and learn lessons about finance could be a game changer for these college athletes.

The final round of voting for LB 962 could come as soon as next week—which, should it pass, will allow the bill to be presented to Gov. Pete Ricketts to either sign or veto. Should the bill be signed into law, it will prove to be a victory for college athletes in Nebraska, but it may not be the end of the road toward improving the lives of college athletes.

“There is always more than can be done to protect college athletes and college students, more generally,” said Hunt. “I’m taking this one step at a time.