Mar 10, 2020 6:00 PM

Kan. might let college athletes make money off their fame

Posted Mar 10, 2020 6:00 PM
 The Kansas Jayhawks men's basketball team is currently ranked No. 1 in the nation. The school's athletics director says that if other schools have laws about endorsement deals and Kansas does not, KU would be "at a disadvantage." Erica Hunzinger / Kansas News Service
The Kansas Jayhawks men's basketball team is currently ranked No. 1 in the nation. The school's athletics director says that if other schools have laws about endorsement deals and Kansas does not, KU would be "at a disadvantage." Erica Hunzinger / Kansas News Service

BY STEPHEN KORANDA, Kansas News Service

TOPEKA, Kansas — If Kansas lawmakers pass a bill allowing student-athletes to make money off endorsements, you might see the next five-star KU or K-State basketball recruits selling cars, shoes or soda.

Dozens of states, including Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, are thinking about changing the rules since the NCAA said in October that it will eventually allow student-athletes to be paid for their name, image and likeness. These bills are stopgaps, aimed at putting rules in place should there be a period of time before national rules are approved by the NCAA or Congress.

It’s a question that’s been problematic for the NCAA for years; in 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up an antitrust suit filed by a former UCLA basketball player. California took matters into its own hands last year with a law to let students profit off their likeness, though it doesn't take effect until 2023.

Currently, student-athletes are ruled ineligible if they make money on endorsements. Missouri U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver has proposed a national rule that would have colleges directly pay athletes. The Kansas plan doesn’t go as far, instead allowing money from outside endorsement contracts.

Emporia State University President Allison Garrett urged Kansas lawmakers to approve the bill, but ultimately hopes it never has to take effect.

“This legislation in Kansas makes sense at this time,” Garrett said, “but the hope would be that there is that federal legislation.”

It’s a sort of begrudging endorsement from the schools. Kansas State University Athletic Director Gene Taylor wants to keep up the current system, in which student-athletes aren’t allowed outside endorsements deals.

“We would prefer no rules, honestly,” Taylor said. “Just let us continue that this scholarship is valuable enough. But that’s not the direction this is going, so we have to move forward.”

The colleges don’t want to be on the cutting edge, where they might run afoul of NCAA rules and trigger punishments from the league. But they also don’t want to be left behind if other states allow endorsement deals.

To walk that tightrope, Kansas’ bill includes a trigger: It would only legalize outside endorsement deals for student-athletes after 15 other states have similar laws.

 Emporia State University President Allison Garrett (left), KU Director of Athletics Jeff Long (center) and Kansas State Athletics Director Gene Taylor testified in support of a bill that would allow student-athletes to be paid for endorsements. Credit Stephen Koranda / Kansas News Service
Emporia State University President Allison Garrett (left), KU Director of Athletics Jeff Long (center) and Kansas State Athletics Director Gene Taylor testified in support of a bill that would allow student-athletes to be paid for endorsements. Credit Stephen Koranda / Kansas News Service

For schools in Kansas, the concern is that recruiting won’t be easy if other states allow athletes to make money but Kansas doesn’t.

“I think it gets very tough,” University of Kansas Director of Athletics Jeff Long said. “Without this bill passing, we would be placed at a disadvantage.”

The discussion comes at a time when KU is being investigated for potential NCAA recruiting violations. It’s based on federal court testimony in which Adidas representatives said they made payments to recruits. The school didn’t address the allegations during a legislative hearing in Topeka, but told the NCAA that the agents weren’t working on behalf of KU.

Garrett wants to see enough controls in a Kansas law so the endorsement deals aren’t used as part of recruiting.

Lawmakers could take action on the bill later this session or continue work next year, according to Republican Sen. Julia Lynn, who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee.

Lynn said there are still a variety of details to work out, including how the endorsement deals would be taxed.

“Collegiate athletics is very complex. There are multiple layers there,” she said. “The money is really big in this issue.”

Republican Sen. Molly Baumgarnder wants to make sure there are enough protections in the bill, so athletes and their families know what they’re getting into with endorsement deals, especially when it comes to high school recruits.

“Agents are going to be flocking to high schools to try and enter into that contract,” Baumgarnder said. “How do the high school counselors, how do the high school coaches help that student that might be embarking on that next step?”

Smaller private schools, who aren’t major players in the recruiting game like KU, K-State and Wichita State are, are concerned about the types of endorsements that might be made available.

Some of the 20 schools in the Kansas Independent College Association have faith traditions that disapprove of alcohol and don’t allow it on campus.

But under the bill, the schools wouldn’t have any say in outside endorsement deals.

“A student-athlete could share his or her likeness with a beer company and the institution would have no power to limit such a contract,” KICA President Matt Lindsey told lawmakers.

Stephen Koranda is the Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio and the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @kprkoranda.

Continue Reading Little Apple Post
Mar 10, 2020 6:00 PM
Tech can track cattle and diseases, but ranchers worry about Big Data
Calves at Gardiner Angus Ranch in Ashland. Corinne Boyer / Kansas News Service

By CORINNE BOYER, Kansas News Service

GARDEN CITY — Before June 2018, finding cattle that were potentially exposed to diseases was time-consuming and complicated, requiring a patchwork of information from auction houses, feedlots, producers and meatpacking plants.

That’s when Kansas spearheaded U.S. CattleTrace, filling a void when it comes to tracing deadly diseases in live cattle and possibly opening up new global markets for beef. Nine other states have signed onto the pilot program, which has distributed 65,000 ultra high-frequency tags that are scanned just like your online purchases.

But there’s a catch — CattleTrace is voluntary. Some ranchers say the program is just not worth their time or the possible invasion of privacy. And with more than 12 million cattle in feedlots across the U.S., one of the program’s officials even acknowledges that if a major “tragedy” strikes, it might not be effective because the program isn’t mandatory.

Cassie Kniebel, the program manager for U.S. CattleTrace, said it’s “something that we hope works for the industry and in the industry because it’s producer-driven,” she said. “So it’s not a government program.”

CattleTrace did start out with some government money, $500,000 in federal funds, and the same from the state of Kansas and private funding. It now exists as a nonprofit that wants to be the national disease traceability system, but it doesn’t expect to be implemented 100%.

Kansas is one of the leading states for meatpacking and feedlots, so a lot of cattle from other states come here. 

“We’re at a huge risk if there’s a disease outbreak because we have a lot of cattle moving into the state,” Kniebel said.

Kansas also is soon to be the home to the nation’s top animal disease research facility, which will be located in Manhattan and is replacing Plum Island in New York.

How the program works

The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that animals traveling between states have an identification tag and a veterinarian certificate, but the rule exempts animals under 18 months. Plus, cattle tags vary: low frequency, high frequency, metal clips, ear or back tags. CattleTrace wants to use one type of tag — ultra high frequency tag — to streamline data collection. 

“Think of it like when you have a chip for the toll booth going on the interstate and these are high frequency identification tags,” CattleTrace board member Mark Gardiner said. “... they can be scanned at the speed of commerce.”

So far, the CattleTrace database has captured 300,000 scans from ultra high frequency tags at auction markets, feedlots or meatpacking plants. It keeps tabs on an animal’s tag number, the date and time the tag was read, and the GPS coordinates of the animal. Once a cow is slaughtered, its tag is retired.

Nine other states are involved with CattleTrace — Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Missouri, Kentucky, Virginia, Florida, Washington and Oregon — though Kansas has the most tagged animals. 

Mark Gardiner walks among his cattle at Gardiner Angus Ranch in Ashland, Kansas. Credit Corinne Boyer / Kansas News Service

Only state animal health officials may make requests for information from the database, which is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. Kniebel said the design is intentional.

“The information is controlled kind of by the board of directors, so that access, that data privacy, is top of mind for producers,” Kniebel said.

Belvidere, South Dakota, rancher Kenny Fox already uses metal-clip ear tags for his calf-cow operation. The tags are free through the National Uniform Eartagging System, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s animal disease tracing system for cattle over 18 months.

He’s worried about who’s controlling and securing CattleTrace’s database.

“Even if there isn’t a disease outbreak, who gets to count the numbers of cattle? Who gets to keep that data secure?” Fox said. “Other unscrupulous people might hack into the system and use those numbers of cattle against us for marketing purposes or, you know, many other things.”

The most-feared diseases

CattleTrace is most worried about a few highly contagious diseases: brucellosis, tuberculosis, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (aka BSE or Mad Cow Disease), rabies, and foot and mouth disease. The latter hasn’t been seen in the U.S. since 1929, but if it happened today, it would shut down the cattle industry.

“When it’s something like hoof and mouth, everything will stop movement — in fact they call it a stop-movement order and no cattle can move,” said Ron Gill, an extension livestock specialist and associate department head of Texas A&M University’s animal science department.

“And if they’re on the highway, they’ll actually pull them to the side and make them stop and unload them somewhere,” he added. “So yeah, it’ll be ugly when that happens.”

Any of those diseases could prompt a disease trace request from CattleTrace, according to Justin Smith, Kansas’ Animal Health Commissioner at the state Department of Agriculture. He offered an example of what kind of drastic measures would need to be taken if there was an outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

“If we find that there’s a herd that we can point back to … and they are infected herd … more than likely we will have to indemnify and euthanize and dispose of those animals in a humane way,” he said. “So they would be destroyed.”

If experts suspected a disease outbreak was afoot, Smith said he’d request information from CattleTrace, and the board of directors would have to approve his request. After that, he’d review data from every facility the animal was scanned at, and call those places to find out when the animal arrived and who brought the animal in.

This makes it easy to eliminate someone’s cattle from a disease investigation, he said.

“I don’t have to require surveillance testing. I don’t have to put quarantines on your facilities. I don’t have to put movement restrictions on your facilities.” Smith said. “You can go about your business, because through traceability, I was able to prove that your cattle are not subjected to this disease.”

Mark Gardiner is a board member of CattleTrace and a rancher in Ashland, Kansas. He called the program a good, safe system. Credit Corinne Boyer / Kansas News Service

Moving forward

Gardiner, who’s also a rancher in Ashland, Kansas, knows disease traceability progress has been slow.

“Quite frankly, we in the United States have not done a good enough job of doing this,” he said.

But he’s hopeful that there are enough incentives for cattle producers to join — new markets.

“I can send my cattle and sell my cattle to the European Union or to China to markets that I can’t have if I don’t have this documentation,” Gardiner said.

Plus, Gill said, CattleTrace weeds out sick cattle, which may help keep grocery stores stocked with beef — regardless of how prices may fluctuate during a disease outbreak.

“That is the entire premise behind it is to try to show that we can show where did these (cattle) come from (and) get the rest of the cattle back in the market quicker,” Gill said.

But Fox is still skeptical, calling the ear tags “an extra expense.” He’d rather see more federal money being spent on zoonotic disease prevention at the country’s international borders and ports.

“We do not bring cattle or pigs in from countries that have foot and mouth disease,” Fox said. “We require that the meat be cooked at a certain temperature that prevents the disease from coming in here.”

Gardiner understands the arguments for and against a disease tracing system. He also knows that because participation isn’t mandatory, things might not go smoothly: “It wouldn’t work in the event of a tragedy as far as we might not be able to trace back where that animal came from.”

CattleTrace wants to incorporate 68% of U.S. cattle into its database, a far cry from the 0.1% it has. The nonprofit’s funding runs out in June. Kniebel said it plans to continue and has support from the cattle industry, but if funding doesn’t come through, the nonprofit would dissolve.

“It would be difficult to start again at ground zero and take another few years potentially to get something else going — at least an industry-driven initiative,” she said.

Corinne Boyer covers western Kansas for High Plains Public Radio and the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @Corinne_Boyer or email [email protected]