Arkansas bill would allow some high school athletes to benefit from name, image, likeness

Would open law to high-schoolers

House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, asks if any legislators would like to speak for or against a bill during the House session at the state Capitol in Little Rock on Thursday, March 16, 2023. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)
House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, asks if any legislators would like to speak for or against a bill during the House session at the state Capitol in Little Rock on Thursday, March 16, 2023. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)

Arkansas House Speaker Matthew Shepherd filed a bill Thursday to expand the state's law that allows college athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness to include some high school students.

The state's current name, image and likeness law applies only to students who are enrolled in a college or university. House Bill 1649 would expand the law to include high school students who have signed a national letter of intent, or similar agreement, or have been accepted to a college or university.

Previously the National Collegiate Athletic Association had barred college athletes from profiting off their name, image and likeness but ended the policy in June 2021.

Under the name, image and likeness policy, athletes can be compensated through marketing and promotional events, such as product endorsements, autographs and more.

By allowing some high school athletes to enter into name, image and likeness deals, Shepherd said the proposed bill is aimed at keeping the state's universities competitive in the often cutthroat world of recruiting.

"From my perspective, I'd rather [prefer] that we didn't have to go down this road, but the fact of the matter is that's the environment in which we live, that's the world in which we live," Shepherd told reporters during a news conference after the House adjourned Thursday. "So it's important that our laws are keeping up with what's going on across the country."

However, the bill addresses only a portion of high school athletes, with Shepherd deferring a future name, image likeness policy for all high school athletes to the Arkansas Activities Association, saying he expects there to be an interim study to look into the issue.

[DOCUMENT: Read the proposed amendment » arkansasonline.com/317hb1649/]

"It's an evolving world," Shepherd said. "A few months ago there were only a few states that had high school [name, image, likeness]; now there's 20-plus states that have it. I think when we think about high school athletics, it only makes sense to be far more deliberate."

According to an article from the Business of College Sports, 26 states -- including the District of Columbia -- allow high school athletes to capitalize off their name, image and likeness. In Arkansas, high school athletes may not accept gifts or compensation for "permitting his/her name, picture, or person to be used to advertise, promote or recommend a product, service, commercial venture or political venture," according to the Arkansas Activities Association's 2022-2023 handbook.

In 2021, the state Legislature passed Arkansas Student-Athlete Publicity Rights Act to allow college athletes to make money off their likeness. The law, which Shepherd sponsored, was among a slew of bills around the nation aimed at challenging the NCAA's policy banning student-athletes from signing paid sponsorship deals. The new name, image, likeness deals, or "NIL," have become a major tool in recruiting, especially for college football and basketball.

Since the NCAA overturned its policy prohibiting student athletes from profiting off their name and likeness, the state's largest collegiate athletic programs have sought to help facilitate sponsorship deals for their athletes to help boost recruiting.

The University of Arkansas has created ONEArkansas to help facilitate sponsorship deals for the school's athletes. The university boasts on a website dedicated to the issue of name, image and likeness that it was the first athletic department in the nation to hire a senior administrator to specifically oversee brand development for student-athletes.