October 20, 2023

Senator Ricketts’ Weekly Column: Expanding Access to Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL)

October 20, 2023

On and off the court, Jaz Shelley is a star for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) basketball team. Jaz earned first-team All-Big Ten honors for her electric play. She earned Academic All-Big Ten honors for her work in the classroom. She’s beloved with fans and teammates alike. Like many players, she receives requests from businesses and nonprofits to lend her name, image, and likeness (NIL) in support of a local business or work a summer camp for kids. But unlike most of her teammates, Jaz is prohibited from saying yes to these opportunities. The reason? She’s from Australia. This week, I introduced legislation to give international student-athletes like Jaz access to the same NIL opportunities her teammates have.

In 2021, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down the NCAA’s restrictions on expanded benefits for collegiate student-athletes. The NCAA then adopted an interim policy allowing  these athletes to earn money based upon their name, image, and likeness. Since then, student-athletes have been able to profit from sales of their jersey or uniform, host summer sports camps for kids, attend community events, sign autographs, and more. The 3,000 international student-athletes that make up about 12% of Division I athletes. They have been largely prohibited from realizing those gains due to their student visa status.

Currently, the F-1 visa, the most common student visa for athletes, has conditions and restrictions on employment that don’t accommodate NIL agreements. International students can’t benefit monetarily from NIL due to our outdated student visa laws. The consequences of participating in unauthorized employment can be grave. The government can terminate the holder’s visa status and withhold benefits in the future, like green cards. It’s pushing talented student athletes like Jaz to either jump through insane hurdles or consider leaving schools like UNL all together.

The student visa needs to be updated to reflect the new NIL rules in collegiate athletics. That’s why I’ve introduced the bipartisan Name, Image, and Likeness for International Collegiate Athletes Act with Democrat Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. Our common-sense bill will level the playing field to ensure American sports programs don’t lose talented student-athletes because of our outdated visa system.

Our bill would create a sub-category within the F-1 visa narrowly tailored to international student-athletes who want to pursue NIL opportunities. It would allow NIL activity to be generally permitted as long as student-athletes were progressing in their degree program. The bill would also empower Designated School Officials (DSOs) to provide oversight to ensure that happens.

Our bipartisan bill has the support of collegiate Athletic Directors from UNL, Creighton University, and the University of Nebraska at Omaha. It also has the support of Jaz Shelley, who said: “I’m thankful for the experiences and opportunities I’ve received by being a student-athlete and support international student-athletes being able to participate in the same name, image, and likeness opportunities as their American teammates.”

Whether you’re a Husker or Bluejay, a Maverick or Loper, all of us are impacted by the grit and talent of Nebraska’s many collegiate student-athletes. Their talents bring us joy, and their achievements are celebrated. If we want to bring the best and brightest to our state, we have to look for talent anywhere and everywhere. By passing the Name, Image, and Likeness for International Collegiate Athletes Act, we can level the playing field to ensure our Nebraska athletics departments can keep recruiting the best athletes for our teams.