Sneaker deals, autographs: Minnesota lawmakers plan to push bill for college athlete pay

At least two Minnesota Republican lawmakers said Tuesday they planned to push California-style legislation allowing college athletes here to be paid, an issue that had the state’s governor and the University of Minnesota’s football coach talking.

California’s law, which Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom signed this week, lets college athletes do endorsement deals, sign autographs for money, and hire agents. It rocked athletic departments nationwide, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association is considering a lawsuit.

But a wave of professional athletes support the new law, and supporters frame it as an inevitable change in college sports. State Rep. Pat Garofalo said he expected Republicans and Democrats to get behind the issue in the 2020 Minnesota legislative session.

“This is going to happen. the question is, when’s Minnesota going to do it?” said Garofalo, R-Farmington. “We have administrators that are making millions of dollars a year, TV contracts that are worth billions of dollars a year, and the athletes are getting nothing.”

A second GOP state lawmaker, Rep. Nolan West, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he planned to introduce legislation next year.

Gov. Tim Walz said he is “uncomfortable” with the current amateur system, under which student-athletes can’t profit from their name or likeness. The first-term Democratic governor said he has played video games that use the likeness of college football players, for which the athletes aren’t paid.

“I haven’t discussed it with anyone. I certainly don’t see this moving to the forefront of discussions next session. But for me personally, I think it is worth discussing, that there should be something done,” Walz told reporters at the state Capitol.
In California, universities fought the legislation, which is scheduled to take effect in 2023. It has created uncertainty for schools in athletic conferences that play California schools.

Minnesota Golden Gophers head football coach PJ Fleck said during his weekly news conference Tuesday that he hadn’t read enough about the issue to comment about it specifically.

“I know where college football is headed. Change is inevitable,” Fleck told reporters. “One thing I know about the University of Minnesota since I’ve been here, we’re doing everything we possibly can do to provide the most unique and elite experience academically, athletically, socially and spiritually for our student athletes. I know that for a fact.”

The university’s athletic director, Mark Coyle, said in an emailed statement that he was aware of California’s law and planned to “work closely” with Big Ten Conference officials.

University of Wisconsin-Madison Athletic Director Barry Alvarez said Monday he would not schedule California teams if their players were no longer amateurs. A spokesman for Alvarez later said Wisconsin has not yet stopped scheduling games with California teams as the university monitors the situation.