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Tech, UVA encourage Northam to join states allowing college athletes to make money with endorsements
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Tech, UVA encourage Northam to join states allowing college athletes to make money with endorsements

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BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech is optimistic Gov. Ralph Northam will take executive action in the coming weeks and allow students in the state to capitalize on their name, image and likeness.

Tech athletics director Whit Babcock and senior associate AD of compliance Derek Gwinn made a presentation to the school’s board of visitors on Monday on the topic at The Inn at Virginia Tech’s Latham Ballroom. They also discussed sports betting with the group.

Gwinn ran down the recent developments surrounding the subject starting with California passing legislation on Sept. 30, 2019 to allow student-athletes to be compensated for their name, image and likeness.

The NCAA agreed to modernize the NIL rules a month later, but the organization’s efforts were put on hold in March when the Supreme Court took up the issue (in the Alston vs. NCAA case).

States have moved ahead with the NCAA efforts at a standstill. Thirteen states have passed legislation — many of those laws go into effect this year — and six other states have legislation in process.

Virginia Del. Marcus B. Simon introduced a bill in December 2019, but it was tabled two months later.

Gwinn said Virginia colleges are in lockstep on the issue and worked together to make their position known.

University of Virginia athletics director Carla Williams, who is part of the NCAA federal and state legislation working group, wrote a letter asking Northam to step in. Tech President Tim Sands and Babcock are among those who signed it.

“Most if not all the Division I schools in the state did just to show solidarity and get the state going in a way that we didn’t think we’d be at a disadvantage with other states’ approval and the timing,” Babcock said. “The University of Virginia started, but they worked with our government officials and lots of general counsel at Division I schools. Every school had input.”

Babcock has long supported allowing student-athletes to be treated like the general student body.

“They happened to have the ability to play athletics at an incredibly high level,” Babcock told the board of visitors last year. “So if there is a store downtown and somebody wants to model clothes for them, great. We think that’s fair.”

Tech’s athletic department is working to ensure current and prospective student-athletes know they won’t be left behind.

The Hokies established a NIL committee with eight members from various departments to work on the topic and recently debuted the Jump Start program that will educate students and help them take advantage of their personal brands once they are allowed.

“We just want to make sure we do what we can for our student-athletes,” Babcock said.

Football coach Justin Fuente echoed Babcock’s thoughts when he told The Roanoke Times in May that Virginia’s lack of NIL legislation would affect the team’s recruiting efforts.

“I feel good that it will all come out in a wash,” Fuente said. “Eventually, whatever it is, will all be the same. Between the lawmakers, the NCAA and the individual states, how they get to that, good luck figuring that out. I feel like in the end we will all have a fairly equal shot at this thing.”

Board members had plenty of questions after Gwinn finished speaking. Could a student endorse a strip club? Can the school continue to use students in marketing? Will NIL legislation put Tech at a disadvantage against schools in a bigger market?

Gwinn and Babcock eased some minds with their answers.

Babcock anticipates any NIL legislation will include certain restrictions — he listed tobacco, gambling and weapons among them — that prevent student-athletes from working with those businesses.

Students sign waivers when they enroll that allows Tech to use them in marketing materials, and Babcock had a strong response for anybody who questions the business opportunities in Blacksburg.

“[In a city like Miami] There’s a lot of competitors,” Babcock said. “For kids coming to Blacksburg, this is the one show in town.”

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