Legislation that would allow college athletes in New Jersey to earn money through endorsement deals narrowly passed the state Senate Monday.

The vote on S971 was 21-11, meaning it received the minimum number of votes needed to pass. Four Republicans joined 17 Democrats in voting for it, while four Democrats joined seven Republicans to vote no. Seven lawmakers who were present didn’t cast votes.

Sen. Joseph Lagana, D-Bergen, one of the bill's lead sponsors, said athletes wouldn’t be permitted to use their likeness or image to endorse companies that sell alcohol, tobacco, gambling and certain other things.

“California was the first to pass this law, which was several months ago, and since that time more than 30 states have introduced similar legislation,” Lagana said. “And what it did was force the NCAA’s board of governors to actually allow this.

“Understanding that a patchwork of laws is not necessarily the best way to do this nationally, however by each state coming out and pushing forth legislation, it’s going to force the NCAA to enact its rules and regulation as it applies through the country,” he said.

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The bill wouldn’t take effect until the fifth academic year after it is enacted into law. Lagana said that gives “plenty of time” for the NCAA to enact rules and states to react accordingly.

Sen. Dick Codey, D-Essex, said it might make sense for Congress to pass a bill like this one but that it is “fraught with danger” to allow, for example, supporters of the University of Texas to indirectly pay athletes through endorsement deals.

“Well-intentioned, but to set up a system whereby each state will decide how much a football or a track star would make is just utterly ridiculous,” said Codey, who said women athletes and those in smaller sports wouldn’t enjoy equal benefits.

Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said he doesn’t agree that women’s sports would be overlooked.

“I guarantee if Carli Lloyd was in college and this was available, she’d be making a lot of money off of this,” Sweeney said, referring to the women’s soccer star from Delran and Rutgers University.

Sen. Sam Thompson, R-Middlesex, said the issue should be addressed by Congress, if anywhere, “so it is equal in all states.” He also worried about disrupting the unity of team sports such as football.

“You have some people that become outstanding stars – running backs, quarterbacks, et cetera. But they can’t be outstanding stars unless they have seven linemen in front of them opening holes and et cetera,” Thompson said. “And I think there can be some resentment if these guys get out there getting themselves beat up to get that guy out there: ‘Boy, look at the money he’s getting and what am I getting?’ I think it could have some detrimental effects on the team.”

Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, who played college baseball at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, said the bill’s sponsors have already sent a message to Congress and the NCAA that New Jersey wants to take part in developing “a fair and equitable system.”

“I believe they’ve accomplished a lot already. I just believe we should pause, hit the pause button here, before we enact a piece of legislation that’s not going to take effect for five years from now,” Sarlo said. “A lot can happen.”

Sarlo said he fears that if the bill becomes law, a student-athlete will forfeit their amateur eligibility if they sign an endorsement contract extended by an unscrupulous individual. The bill says an athlete can’t hire professionals to help secure their endorsements.

“So he’s going to be working with these companies out there that have all kinds of attorneys and everything else, and he has to figure out how to get a contract right without an attorney and without a sports agent,” Thompson said.

The Assembly version of the bill, A2106, awaits a hearing in the Assembly Higher Education Committee. That panel passed a version of the bill in December, but it went no further before the two-year legislative session expired.


YES: Addiego, Beach, Cardinale, Cruz-Perez, Cunningham, Greenstein, Kean, Lagana, Madden, O’Scanlon, Pou, Rice, Ruiz, Scutari, Singer, Singleton, Smith, Stack, Sweeney, Turner, Weinberg

NO: Bateman, Bucco, Codey, Connors, Corrado, Cryan, Oroho, Pennacchio, Sacco, Sarlo, Testa

NOT VOTING: Brown, Diegnan, Doherty, Gill, Gopal, Holzapfel, Thompson

ABSENT: Vitale

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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