TN Lawmaker Proposes Compensation for Collegiate Athletes

Nov 6, 2019


The University of Tennessee's Neyland Stadium in Knoxville.
Credit UT Athletics (

After the NCAA announced last week that college student athletes may soon receive pay for play, some Tennessee lawmakers are planning for the next steps here.

California is the first state to pass a law allowing student athletes to accept endorsement deals and hire agents. If the law isn’t struck down by a judge, students could start seeing paychecks beginning in 2023. 

Now, state Rep. Antonio Parkinson from Memphis plans to re-introduce similar legislation—a bill that would create a so-called “student athlete graduation grant” for the state’s public universities and colleges. 

“It gives us an opportunity to give our student athletes that generate millions of dollars in income for us, that entertain us, an opportunity at a start in life once their college career is over with in Tennessee,” he says.  

Under the proposal, one percent of Tennessee universities’ ticket sales and merchandising profits would fund a grant program for student athletes who do not go pro or make money during their college years. Students could apply for up to $50,000 after they graduate. 

Not all student athletes would be eligible for the same amount of money. Those who participate in sports that generate less revenue for the school, such as swimming, could only ask for $25,000.      

Parkinson says student athletes sacrifice their bodies and time and should receive some of the profits that schools bring in through their athletic programs. 

“Everybody is making money except for the athlete,” he says. “You got the jersey manufacturer, you got the casinos, you got the bookies, you got the odds makers, you got the sports analysts.” 

The fund would be interest bearing, which would in turn be used to reimburse universities for their original investment after five years.  

Similar legislation sponsored by Parkinson failed to pass in 2013. Critics argued it would violate NCAA rules and subject Tennessee universities to sanctions. 

Though Parkinson says he isn’t concerned about breaching NCAA policy, he believes the organization’s recent about-face will help convince lawmakers that athletes should be compensated. 

“The ground is fertile for the legislation to pass,” he says.