Tennessee legislators working on pay to play law for student-athletes

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The issue of paying college athletes has been a decades-old fight between the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and student athletes.

A new California law is changing the game and allowing student-athletes to profit off their names. It could cause a shift in other states, like Tennessee.

There's lots of momentum surrounding sports in Memphis. The University of Memphis’ basketball team had the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, and that hope is sure to bring more people to FedEx Forum.

But some say student-athletes should be getting more than just attention; they should get pay.

“I like it," Valentino Galkey said. "I’m all in for it. I support it.”

Some disagree and think college sports should stay how they are now.

“I think it’ll ruin the goals of studying and get them involved in the making money thing, and it’ll take their interest away from college," Frank Lee said.

The issue is on the minds of many, thanks in part to California's governor signing the new Fair Pay to Play law into effect this week. It allows college athletes to sign endorsement deals and profit from their name, image and likeness.

"When you put pen to paper, what's this going to do?" California Gov. Gavin Newson said. "What's this going to change? It's going to initiate dozens of other states to introduce similar legislation, and it's going to change college sports for the better by having now the interests, finally, on par with the interests of the institutions. Now we're re-balancing that power arrangement."

It's a hot topic in Tennessee as well, with Sen. Brian Kelsey pushing for college athletes to be paid earlier this year. Now, he’s ready to take that one step further, and it appears his colleagues agree with his thinking.

“I’m absolutely in support of it," Sen. Katrina Robinson said. "I think it’s well-needed. It’s overdue. I shared with you before my dad was very instrumental in bringing AAU here with basketball. I’ve seen what basketball does in the college scene when the kids don’t make it to the NBA. They have nothing to fall back on. They have families trying to make it while they’re in school.”

NCAA reports show the U of M athletic programs generated $55 million in revenue last season, with football and basketball being the big contributors.

Some say allowing student-athletes to cash in would also have a positive impact on the city.

“It’ll take the recruiting and everything to the next level," one Memphis resident said. "We already got Penny Hardaway here with the coaching job, so it’ll just make stuff bigger than what it already is.”

Sen. Kelsey said he wants to make sure Hardaway can have the same recruiting tools to compete with universities in California. He said he will work with representative Parkinson to present a similar bill in Tennessee next year.

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