February 4, 2021

Bill to let college athletes earn money from their likeness clears committee

A piece of legislation designed to create a cash flow for New Mexico’s college student-athletes cleared its first significant hurdle Wednesday.

Introduced by a bipartisan trio of two state senators and a high-profile member of the House, SB 94 cleared the Senate Education Committee with unanimous approval Wednesday morning. According to one of its authors, it has gained the kind of momentum required to make it become a law before the end of the session.

Similar measures have been adopted in California and Colorado, which have five schools in the Mountain West Conference, 10 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference and one in the Western Athletic Conference — leagues that are home to, respectively, the University of New Mexico, New Mexico Highlands and New Mexico State.

“In this day and age of politics, this is a bill that passed unanimously with Republicans and Democrats in California,” said Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque. “It’s not a partisan issue, it’s a fairness issue.”

The bill would allow college athletes to earn compensation from the use of their name, image or likeness. Until recently, the NCAA prohibited students from making any type of revenue attributed to their roles as amateur athletes.

A former football player at UNM, Moores co-authored the bill with Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque.

UNM football coach Danny Gonzales said the measure is a potential boon for the Lobos and other in-state college programs.

“Absolutely, it can be a recruiting tool,” he said. “It just depends on how the people around here want to help.”

Players could earn income for commercial advertisements and endorsements, but more specifically could generate money through their various social media accounts — essentially becoming influencers on Twitter, Instagram, Tik Tok and Snapchat. Accounts that amass large followings can demand advertising and endorsement dollars that could literally transform an athlete’s life while still in college.

The bill has the support of NMSU athletic director Mario Moccia. He spoke in favor of it during the committee hearing, saying it provides a competitive edge when recruiting athletes from California.

If New Mexico had a law that allowed athletes to earn an income, he said, they might be more inclined to leave home and come here.

“I think people get it,” Moores said. “With the billions of dollars being spent in athletics and allowing student-athletes to benefit from their name and image, this is only fair.”

The next step for SB 94 is another hearing, this time in front of a judiciary committee before filtering through the Senate and then the House. The fact that it has gained such a strong contingent of allies on both sides of the political aisle means it could begin benefiting athletes in a matter of weeks, Moores said.