March 22, 2024

Senator Ricketts’ Weekly Column: Moving the Ball Forward on Name, Image, and Likeness

March 22, 2024
Each year, the NCAA Basketball tournament captivates our attention. “March Madness” is much more than just a sporting event. It’s a cultural phenomenon that generates billions of dollars in revenue. Student-athletes who help their schools reach new heights are celebrated as legends. They represent our state and universities with pride and grit. Whether you’re a Husker or Bluejay, a Maverick or Loper, we all enjoy the achievements of our favorite teams.

Consider the talented players helping lead the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) and Creighton University in this year’s tournament. Jaz Shelley. Keisei Tominaga. Francisco Farabello. All three have enriched our campuses and communities with their talent and personality. All three are an important part of their teams. Yet, as international student-athletes, each is prevented from realizing the full reward of their hard work. I’ve introduced bipartisan legislation to fix this.

Since 2021, many student-athletes have been able to reap the benefits of that excellence by earning money based upon their name, image, and likeness (NIL). They can profit from jersey sales, hosting summer sports camps for kids, attending community events, signing autographs, and more. Unfortunately, because of outdated visa rules, the student-athletes are prevented from doing the same. 

The F-1 visa is the most common student visa used by college athletes. Currently, it has no rule that could accommodate NIL agreements. A NIL deal is considered “unauthorized employment” and could trigger grave consequences. The federal government could terminate the student-athlete’s visa, potentially forcing them to leave the country. It could also jeopardize their ability to earn a green card in the future, preventing them from playing professionally in the United States.

We want our favorite teams to attract talent. These outdated rules must be updated so these talented athletes are not forced to leave. That’s why I introduced the Name, Image, and Likeness for International Collegiate Athletes Act with Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. Our common-sense bill will level the playing field to ensure American sports programs don’t lose talent because of our broken visa system. 

The bill would create a new sub-category of the F-1 visa tailored specifically for this situation. It would allow NIL activity to be generally permitted under the terms of this visa. But it also has safeguards. It would require these young women and men to continue progressing in their degree program to remain in good standing. It would empower Designated School Officials to provide oversight to ensure that happens.

The name, image, and likeness landscape is changing rapidly. Nebraska’s universities are rightly at the center of that change. My bill would help them stay there. The Athletic Departments of Creighton, UNL, and UNO support my bill. Jaz Shelley does too. If we want to bring the best and brightest to our state, we have to look for talent anywhere and everywhere. By passing my NIL for International Collegiate Athletes Act, we can level the playing field so student-athletes like Jaz Shelley, Keisei Tominaga, and Francisco Farabello have the same NIL opportunities as the rest of their teammates. We can also ensure that our Nebraska athletics departments can keep recruiting the best talent for our favorite teams.