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Pepperdine Professor Alicia Jessop Drafts College Athlete Economic Freedom Act to Protect Legal Rights of Student-Athletes

Alicia Jessop - Pepperdine UniversityAlicia Jessop, associate professor of sport administration at Seaver College, has worked this year with Connecticut senator Chris Murphy on drafting the College Athlete Economic Freedom Act, a bill aimed to restore the publicity rights of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) student-athletes. The right of publicity is a right under state law recognized by a large majority of American states that allows individuals to commercially benefit from the use of their names, images, and likenesses. Historically, however, the NCAA has prohibited student-athletes from exercising this right. 

As a private association, the NCAA generates more than $1 billion in annual revenues while college sports generate $26 billion per year, with a large majority of the profits generated by member institutions of the Power Five conferences. While college athletics coaches’ salaries have increased exponentially and more revenue has been allocated toward college sports through broadcasting contracts, student-athletes have been restrained from benefiting from these profits—an issue that Jessop addresses within the College Athlete Economic Freedom Act.

A licensed attorney in California and Colorado, Jessop is a former professor at the University of Miami—a Power Five conference university—where she taught numerous student-athletes who were eventually invited to play professionally in the NBA and NFL. While in Miami, she learned that for some student-athletes, the college experience is more heavily associated with sports than education because of the significant emphasis placed on practices, games, and team activities. In fact, Jessop notes, research demonstrates that Division I football players spend 60 hours per week playing their sport during their season, leaving limited time for academics.

“After seeing this, I realized there was a drastic disparity where coaches, brands, and other entities were able to financially benefit from the product they helped create, while student-athletes had no way to fairly benefit from their talents from which the product is derived,” Jessop shares. “Many of the young men and women I worked with at the University of Miami came from financially underserved backgrounds and were told that playing sports was a way out of their economic situation. For that to be a reality, their right of publicity must be restored.”

Recognizing this as a civil rights issue, Jessop believes that if the College Athlete Economic Freedom Act is passed, student-athletes would be provided with the opportunities to engage more widely in educational endeavors in areas of business, communication, finance, and the law, while developing relevant strategies to commoditize their names, images and likenesses. “Overall, this legislation seeks to empower those who are largely responsible for producing the college sport product: the student-athlete,” she says.