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Virginia Tech hopes Northam evens playing field with action on name, image and likeness

Virginia Tech hopes Northam evens playing field with action on name, image and likeness


BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech is optimistic Gov. Ralph Northam will take executive action in the coming weeks and allow students in the state to capitalize on their name, image and likeness.

Tech athletic director Whit Babcock and senior associate athletic director of compliance Derek Gwinn gave a presentation to the school’s board of visitors on Monday afternoon on the topic at The Inn at Virginia Tech’s Latham Ballroom. They also discussed sports betting with the group.

Gwinn ran down the recent developments surrounding the subject, abbreviated as NIL, starting with the state of California passing legislation on Sept. 30, 2019, to allow student-athletes to be compensated for their name, image and likeness.

The NCAA agreed to modernize the NIL rules a month later, but the organization’s efforts were put on hold in March when the Supreme Court took up the issue (in the Alston v. NCAA case).

Individual states have moved ahead with the NCAA efforts at a standstill. There have been 13 states that have passed legislation — many of those laws go into effect within the calendar year — and six other states with legislation in process.

Virginia Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, introduced a bill in December 2019, but it was tabled two months later.

Gwinn said colleges in Virginia are in lockstep on the issue, and worked together to make their position known.

University of Virginia athletic director Carla Williams, who is part of the NCAA federal and state legislation working group, composed a letter asking Northam to step in. President Tim Sands and Babcock are among the signatories on the letter.

“Most if not all the Division 1 schools in the state did just to show solidarity and get the state going in a way that we didn’t think we’d be at a disadvantage with other states’ approval and the timing,” Babcock said. “The University of Virginia started, but they worked with our government officials and lots of general counsel at Division 1 schools. Every school had input.”

Babcock has long been a proponent of allowing students to be treated like the general student body.

“They happened to have the ability to play athletics at an incredibly high level,” Babcock told the board of visitor’s last year. “So if there is a store downtown and somebody wants to model clothes for them, great. We think that’s fair.”

Tech’s athletic department is working behind the scenes to ensure current and prospective student-athletes know they won’t be left behind.

The Hokies established a NIL committee with eight members from various departments to work on the topic and recently debuted the Jump Start program that will educate students and help them take advantage of their personal brands once they are allowed.

“We just want to make sure we do what we can for our student-athletes,” Babcock said.

Football coach Justin Fuente echoed Babcock’s thoughts when he told The Roanoke Times in May Virginia’s lack of NIL legislation would impact the team’s recruiting efforts.

“I feel good that it will all come out in a wash,” Fuente said. “Eventually, whatever it is, will all be the same. Between the lawmakers, the NCAA and the individual states, how they get to that, good luck figuring that out. I feel like in the end we will all have a fairly equal shot at this thing.”

Board members had plenty of questions about the issue once Gwinn was done speaking. Could a student endorse a strip club? Can the school continue to use individual students in marketing? Will NIL legislation put Tech be at a disadvantage against schools in a bigger market?

Gwinn and Babcock eased some minds with their answers.

Babcock anticipates any NIL legislation will include certain restrictions — he listed tobacco, gambling and weapons among them — that prevents student-athletes from working with those businesses.

Students sign waivers when they enroll that allows Tech to use them in marketing materials, and Babcock had a strong response for anybody who questions the business opportunities in Blacksburg.

“(In a city like Miami) There’s a lot of competitors,” Babcock said. “For kids coming to Blacksburg, this is the one show in town.”

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