John Calipari Praises Kentucky Name, Image, Likeness Measure

University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari likes the strategy state lawmakers are drawing up to regulate name, image and likeness compensation for college athletes.

The coach of the powerhouse basketball program told the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday that the bill offers a “model” approach, providing flexibility to respond to the still-evolving issue.

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Calipari and UK athletic director Mitch Barnhart offered insights on the legislation before the committee advanced the measure to the full Senate. Their appearance offered powerful testimonials for the legislature’s work so far on the NIL issue. The House still has to weigh in on the issue.

College athletes in Kentucky have been able to make money off their name, image and likeness since last summer, when an executive order signed by Gov. Andy Beshear took effect. His widely praised action was seen as a short-term response until state or federal lawmakers took action.

Lawmakers in statehouses across the country are wrangling with the high-stakes issue, as millions of dollars pour into endorsements for college athletes.

Calipari on Wednesday praised the plan being crafted by Kentucky lawmakers, telling the committee: “I think it’s a model bill. I think other states are going to look at this bill and say, ‘Wow.’”

He said the bill would give university administrators like Barnhart “the room to look at this and say how we do this.”

“Yet you protect these student-athletes… You’re giving them opportunities,” he said.

Barnhart also praised the bill’s flexibility, saying that “many aspects of this landscape continue to change.” He acknowledged to lawmakers that “we don’t know where it goes from here.”

The goal for the UK is that its student-athletes will be “prepared to maximize opportunities while also continuing their educations and benefiting from all the things that come from being on a college campus,” Barnhart said.

Kentucky head coach John Calipari yells to his players in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Mississippi State in the Southeastern Conference Tournament Thursday, March 11, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn.  (AP Photo / Mark Humphrey)

Kentucky head coach John Calipari yells to his players in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Mississippi State in the Southeastern Conference Tournament Thursday, March 11, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo / Mark Humphrey)

The measure reflects a bipartisan approach to handling the complex issue. Its primary sponsors are Republican Sen. Max Wise and Democratic Sen. Morgan McGarvey.

McGarvey said it would set a framework for college athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness. But much of how it would be regulated would be left up to schools, he said.

“We put some parameters on it but try to be as permissive as possible to let these institutions best help their student-athletes,” he said.

Under the bill, athletes would not be allowed to promote illegal products, McGarvey said. They also couldn’t promote anything having to do with sports betting.

The governing boards of universities could adopt policies governing the NIL agreements of their school’s athletes. But those regulations would have to be reasonable and could not put an undue burden on the ability of student-athletes to earn NIL money, McGarvey said.

“We want this to be to the benefit of the student-athlete,” he said. “That’s who we’re looking out for in this bill and that’s who we want to protect.”

Another key provision would prohibit schools from using NIL as a recruiting inducement by promising athletes some type of NIL deal, he said. But universities could help their student-athletes by offering their resources to help them navigate the complexities of the issue.

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Both Barnhart and Calipari said their preference would be for federal legislation to govern the issue.

“There is no question that a federal solution that creates a single standard for all student-athletes in all states is the best path forward,” Barnhart said. “We also believe that we shouldn’t wait for a uniform federal policy to continue finding ways to support our student-athletes and ensure that they have the best possible experience in their name, image and likeness.”