A bill that would allow high school athletes who have been accepted to a college or have signed a national letter of intent to profit off their name, image and likeness passed the Arkansas House of Representatives Thursday.
The House approved the bill 92-1, sending it to the Senate for further consideration.
House Bill 1649, sponsored by House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, is one of several bills that take aim at debates around name, image and likeness for high school athletes. The NCAA had barred student-athletes from signing paid sponsorship deals, but the organization that oversees college athletics reversed course in June 2021 to allow student-athletes to sign deals to profit off their name, image and likeness.
Shepherd said the bill would help Arkansas keep up in the competitive world of college recruiting by allowing some of the state's top high school athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness. The Arkansas Activities Association currently prohibits high school athletes from entering into paid sponsorship deals.
"It's really, in large part, to keep Arkansas and our institutions competitive," Shepherd said.
According to the Business of College Sports, 26 states -- including the District of Columbia -- allow high school athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness.
Shepherd said states that allow high school athletes to sign name, image and likeness deals may have an upper hand in recruiting athletes from Arkansas. Out-of-state colleges do not have to follow Arkansas laws or regulations restricting them from offering students publicity rights deals while in-state ones do, Shepherd said.
"You have student-athletes that are maybe being recruited to an Arkansas in-state school, currently they can't take advantage of their name, image and likeness until they are enrolled in school," Shepherd said. "Institutions from outside the state, or third parties outside the state, are trying to tempt them to go elsewhere."
In 2021, Arkansas joined several other states when the General Assembly passed the Student-Athlete Publicity Rights Act to allow those enrolled in colleges to make money off their name, image and likeness. That law also was sponsored by Shepherd and backed by the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville and Arkansas State University in Jonesboro.
The House Education Committee also advanced another bill Thursday to study the feasibility of allowing high school athletes the right to receive compensation for their likeness. The bill will move to the House for a vote.
If the bill were approved, lawmakers and high school coaches would meet to study the issue when they are out of session. Lawmakers would have to file a written report by Oct. 31, 2024, on their findings, according to House Bill 1679.
Rep. RJ Hawk, R-Bryant, said the landscape for high school sports is changing, and for Arkansas to keep its student-athletes in the state, lawmakers may need to clear the way for them to make money off their name, image and likeness.