FRANKFORT, Ky. – Kentucky's governor signed an order Thursday allowing the state's college athletes — including players on the nationally renowned Kentucky and Louisville men's basketball teams — to make money through the use of their name, image or likeness.
Gov. Andy Beshear said he wielded his executive authority as a matter of fairness for college athletes, adding that for decades companies and institutions have profited off them.
“Those athletes deserve to be compensated for their image and likeness,” the Democratic governor told reporters. “Think about what image and likeness is? It's your name. It's what you look like. It is intrinsically yours. And while I don't think these athletes mind that they also lift up their school, they deserve to be a part of that as well."
His executive order also will spare Kentucky's colleges from being at a competitive disadvantage with rival schools in other states that will have laws enabling athletes to profit off their name, image or likeness, Beshear said.
Beshear said his executive order takes effect July 1, when similar measures passed in several other states will become law. His office said he was the first governor to make the change by executive order. Existing state law gave him the authority to take the action, the governor said.
“This is going to last until either the NCAA fully and finally acts, or the legislature is back in session, at which time we all agree we would need legislation,” Beshear said.
The move comes just days after the Supreme Court ruled against the NCAA in an antitrust case that complicated how the association is going about reform to its rule regarding compensation for athletes for use of their name, image or likeness. The NCAA is moving towards a more hands-off approach that will provide no uniform national rules and let schools follow state laws or set their own guidelines if no state laws apply.
Federal lawmakers also are working on legislation that would govern how college athletes can earn money off their fame and celebrity.
Beshear's action won praise from the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville. UK plays in the Southeastern Conference and UofL competes in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“Bringing the state of Kentucky into competitive balance with other states across the country and, more specifically, the Atlantic Coast Conference is critical," Vince Tyra, U of L's vice president for intercollegiate athletics, said in a release issued by the governor's office.
UK athletics director Mitch Barnhart said the governor's action “provides us the flexibility we need at this time to further develop policies around name, image and likeness.”
“We are appreciative of that support, as it is a bridge until such time as state and/or federal laws are enacted," Barnhart said in the same release from Beshear's office. “The landscape of college sports is now in the midst of dramatic and historic change — perhaps the biggest set of shifts and changes since scholarships were first awarded decades ago.”
Beshear, who feuded with the state's Republican-dominated legislature over his coronavirus-related executive actions, won an endorsement Thursday from a key lawmaker for using his executive authority to enable college athletes to monetize their name, image and likeness.
Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican, said "we are supportive of the governor’s narrow and temporary action today, as it provides the tools needed to ensure that Kentucky’s student-athletes are given ample opportunity. Our commitment to permanent protections for these students will be addressed early in the next legislative session.”
Kentucky lawmakers will reconvene in early January for their next regular session.
In Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas, laws go into effect July 1 that make it impermissible for the NCAA and members schools to prevent athletes from being paid by third parties for things like sponsorship deals, online endorsements and personal appearances.
The NCAA had hoped for a national law from Congress that has not come, and its own rule-making has been bogged down for months. College sports leaders are instead moving toward the type of patchwork regulation they have been warning against for months.
Ralph Russo contributed from New York.